Rain falls on everyone

It’s 5:00 p.m.  I’m watching the rain water fall on the leaves of the hollyhocks.  The sky darkened a few minutes ago and forced me to turn on a light in the kitchen, as if somehow nighttime descended already.  The sirens sounded warning, and all of the people in our house made way to the basement.  Before I sat down, I stood at the sliding glass door, watching the sky and listening, eyeing the waterfowl for clues from them about any impending danger.

All at once, I was little, standing inside my grandparents’ back porch, nose pressed against rain-dropped glass, watching my grandfather on the stoop.  He smoked a cigarette and scanned the horizon, listening and waiting.  I saw him spit, like men do, like farmers do.  When he came back in, I told him that spitting was not polite.  He didn’t answer me.  Tornados had been forecasted, and we waited for them with my grandparents.  I don’t remember anything else about that evening.

I woke up the next day to the sound of my mom changing a load of laundry.  I saw her feet from my spot on the concrete basement floor.  The tornado had indeed swept through our little town, obliterating all of Main Street.  I had missed the whole thing, including the part where my parents carried my sleeping self from my grandparents’ cellar to the car and into our house.

The rest of what I know from that historic event comes from the aerial photos that lined the back walls of James’ Java Shop.  Over the years, people talked about the buildings and businesses the way they were before the storm.  I collected and borrowed memories from other people to fill in the blanks.  I only have one specific polaroid to call my own.  The image of my grandfather–clad in his Big Ben brand blue farming pants and shirt, smoking a cigarette and watching the skies, spitting.

The all-clear signals just sounded.  My Facebook feed lets me know that other areas around us got pelted with hail and torrential rains.  Water swelled in the streets in parts of Denver.  Hurrying and scurrying to stop the water from damaging a basement there. No danger here.  Here, the geese go on as usual, and the hollyhock leaves are stilled.  Life shifts, in a few moments.  Even with the warning and watching the skies, taking shelter and spitting, it happens.  Sometimes here, sometimes there.  Just like that.



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belonging with grace and peace

Dad leaned over and half-whispered, half-grumbled, “I hate this part.”  The greeting time.  He hated it, though hate is a strong word.  He had belonged to that congregation since near the beginning of time, I think.  He certainly knew everyone.  Even if they were a first-time guest, he knew someone who knew them somehow.  Week after week, he would turn to me and shake my hand first, whisper his protest, then turn to the rest of the nearby back row occupants.

It is what we do in church, take a moment to say hello those around us.  I don’t have an affinity for the greeting part of the liturgy either.  Pass the grace and peace of Christ.  It’s beneficial and right.  It’s also clunky and obligatory.  When they call us back together, relief.  Not again till next week.  I’m with you, Dad.

Maybe it’s the introvert in me, the part of me that wants to belong and belong quietly, by myself.  Maybe not everyone shares my dad’s sentiments, or mine.

The difficulty in belonging anywhere (and I think we all want to belong somewhere to something) is that we can’t be a part alone.  It requires giving of self in some capacity–whether shaking the hand of someone you don’t know, or introducing yourself to someone you are afraid won’t like you, or passing grace and peace to someone you would rather not know.  Unless we just want only to be a part of churches and other congregations of sorts where everyone looks exactly like us, where all of the people vote the same, think the same, read the same.  Which, kind of, we do.  But that isn’t one body with many parts and functions.  That’s a bunch of hands gathered in one place doing only hand tasks, succeeding in the hand category.  That isn’t belonging so much as it is segregating and dividing.

I think a lot about sitting in the back row with my dad and the practice of greeting.  Maybe Dad didn’t like it because he already did belong.  This was his tribe, his people.  The ones who voted Republican even though he voted Democrat, the ones who loved the apostle Paul even though he thought Paul was full of himself, the ones who thought he was a subpar businessman and the ones who knew he meant well anyway.  Oh, it wasn’t a perfect gathering, but they belonged to one another just the same.  And Dad had already greeted them on the road, in the coffee shop, at the gas station, at the bank, at the drugstore.

Maybe I struggle because I don’t know if I belong or where I belong or if I can give myself to a place of belonging at all.  It certainly appeals more to try and find a space or group of people more like me, who do read and think the same and talk the same and on and on.  But is that what the Kingdom of God is like?  We all belong, because we are all one big, happy homogenous family?

It’s the time in the service where we take a few minutes to greet those around us with the grace and peace of Christ.  If I want to belong anywhere at all ever, like I used to belong there on the one pew of that little church, then I must step into the awkward and extend a hand.  Grace and peace.  I am going to give it from the depths of myself, and I’m going to receive it in return.



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She is moving again

When her husband had passed ten years prior, she readjusted her belongings–numbly downsizing, trusting the wisdom and love of her children–and moved to a cozy mobile home nearer to family.  She had told me about the new place, how it suited her just fine, how she had learned to do life again after Uncle Roy died.  For a week four Octobers ago, she let me live alongside in her new little house.

Aunt Betty Sue rose with the sun.  Slippered feet shuffled quietly in the kitchen.  I heard her, but I let myself drift back off to sleep for a while longer.  The furnace kicked on at the insistence of the nightly cool of the high dessert.  The hum of the fan lulled me to sleep while she put the coffee on.

Those first two days, we stayed in our pajamas and watched all six hours of Anne of Green Gables, plus Dead Poet’s Society and Fly Away Home.  We took our breakfast in front of the television, she in her Queen Anne chair and me on the couch.  I made us fried eggs in her old iron skillet, and I served it with some of her homemade applesauce and a patty of sausage.  She drank coffee.  I sipped hot tea.  We ate lunch and supper in the same fashion–in our nightclothes, in front of the t.v.

We talked and watched the birds come and perch on the feeders and flowers and porch railing.  We talked for hours, movie reels of our own making.  Sometimes we let the quiet be enough, the gift of being in the same geographical space permeating the oxygen we shared.  We relished the whole of it.  Watching movies for forever.  Sitting on the porch swing and reliving memories about her Roy.  Sharing meals with her children and their children.  Eating avocados from the produce market in town.  Talking about our shared history of family and place, of the kind of Anne Shirley bosom friends we have been across so many years in spite the age difference.

A few times in the year that followed my visit to Anza, California, I dreamed about returning.  My literal dream allowed me to be there again, a newly added room of my own this time.  I told Aunt Betty Sue about it, and we laughed and hoped that there might be another trip.  At her age, then 86, we both knew that it probably would remain a dream.

The last time we shared a long phone visit was in the late fall of last year.  I sat on the back walkway in the sun, and she most likely sat in her Queen Anne chair.  She told me about people in my heritage, the truer and more beautiful things that sometimes get lost in the fractures and splinters of a person.  She painted a picture, based on stories she had been told way back when, of my young grandmother and grandfather, their courtship and love story before the darkness came.  We talked about parenting and how, like most things, this season, too, shall pass.  She told me what God was teaching her, a question she readily answers no matter when I ask. I’ve always admired that about her–one is never finished learning.

She moved to a bed at her daughter’s, not terribly far from her trailer home. New lessons, I suppose.  She moved again, because the shuffling and making coffee, the minding her medicines and keeping a regular routine became too much to track on her own.  In gradual increments, the COPD has stolen bits and pieces of her lungs, and it has roamed elsewhere, to her heart and her mind, to take more.  She knows the people around her, but no strength remains to speak or interact.

In my mind, in my spirit, I’m visiting her now.  In some borrowed moments of the sacred space of dying, I hold her hand and read a chapter or two from a Wendell Berry book.  Her blue eyes, still engaging me, close and open as she listens and sees the story.  I shut the book.  I tell her how much her kinship has meant to me, from when I was little and she wrote to me, through all of the years she encouraged me to write and to learn and to lean into Jesus.  She watches out the window as the wind blows, and she knows the weather patterns by its sound, even now.  A new dawn will peek through, soon.  She will begin a whole new routine.

“I have come home at last! This is my real country! I belong here. This is the land I have been looking for all my life, though I never knew it till now…Come further up, come further in!”  –C.S. Lewis, The Last Battle


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the disciple Jesus loved

To make my devotional life very simple (and because some time spent with a dear friend caused me to ponder the thought), I decided that 2015 would be the year of a singular book of the Bible.  Along with reading a Psalm or a part of a Psalm each day, sitting quietly with the Gospel of John has been my habit.

Five times in the course of his record, John refers to himself as “the disciple that Jesus loved.”  A closer rendering may be “the disciple whom Jesus was loving.”  All five times, he says this about himself as a distinction from the other disciples present.  I don’t gather that he means Jesus was not loving the other members of the team, though I’ve not really studied the commentaries and lexical aids to find out.

I do find it worthy of a smile as I read.  In all of these scenes (John 13:23, 19:26, 20:2, 21:7, 21:20), John tells everyone who reads the story of Jesus according to his witness–“Jesus highly esteems me, and it’s important, so I’m writing it down.”  I want to pat John on the head and tell him he’s sweet.  What a fun fellow to embellish the Gospel account in this way.

But something else kinda sticks to me as I go along and spend more and more time reading and re-reading John’s words.  His audacity to name himself in this manner, in this book about Jesus.  I’m reading this specific book of the Bible so that I can learn more of Jesus, to get as close to His life story as I can.  John is butting in with himself.

And maybe that is what is sticky-tacky about it, the story of Jesus all littered with people.  Delusional John or narcissistic John making his way into my business.  Or maybe honest and comfortable John is the one who really invades my way of thinking, making me see something and change something.

I am the disciple Jesus loves.  I am the disciple whom Jesus is loving.  This changes my devotional life entirely.  It transforms everything.





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Derby Day reenacted

Late April and May recess found me and my friend hurrying out the back door and off of the stoop to the blue and white swings.  Two sets of swings, two blue seats and two white seats suspended by thick chains, overlooked the baseball field at the bottom of the hill.  It was the place where we rode horses all during the 30 minutes before the teacher rang the handbell.  Tara chose Secretariat, and I jockeyed Seattle Slew.  We reenacted the Kentucky Derby again and again.

I imagined shooting out of the gate, clad in some sort of purple silks, urging my horse all the way around the track, rounding the last bend and heading down the stretch.  The wind caught my hair as I maneuvered my horse.  We sang Dan Fogelberg’s “Run for the Roses” and imagined the blanket of red roses being award to one of us.  Somehow the magic of the first Saturday in May had trickled down the interstate from Louisville to our little town.  We were right in the middle of it all.

For some years, my dad let me choose a horse.  We looked at the paper, noting the horses and their jockeys and their silk colors.  I usually chose based on the name of the horse or whichever jockey wore purple.  He placed the bet for me using his money.  If my horse won, it became my money.  I won once or twice, but mostly Dad just forfeited five or ten bucks.

Even in our little town, Derby Day made things electric.  Folks rarely went to the actual race, but we lived the excitement and the glory of it during the days leading up to and on the day itself.  We watched the news coverage.  We reveled when we saw a favorite television or movie star show up in our Louisville on Millionaire’s Row.  The famous fastest two minutes in sports happened in our Bluegrass State.  Little Campbellsburg celebrated Kentucky pride.

Long before I knew about the spike in human trafficking during large sporting events, or the decadence of the infield, or the millions of dollars expended for one pony, the Kentucky Derby meant holiday and beauty and pageantry.  It meant our state made the national news for something spectacular.  The first Saturday in May showcased the strength and power of an animal I loved so much as a young girl, and I dreamed I could ride a horse like that someday.

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