For the wisdom that comes from another, I give thanks.
- amazing how a conversation about death helps us life seem more vivid and clear
- amazing how the work of a non-religious writer is the perfect partner to my current ministry book I’m loving, The Relational Pastor.
- amazing how a good radio program makes a 6-mile run seem not long enough.
“None of us can truly know what we mean to other people, and none of us can know what our future self will experience.”
Two years ago, I sat in our nursery and began the work of separating clothes into piles. I sorted each item by size and season. Holding up pants with the size “2T,” I marveled at the idea that he would one day be that big. They were pass-downs from a family whose three boys had outgrown them. The printed mock-turtlenecks went into drawers but never ended up getting much use. But everything else has now gone through the wash many times as they have adorned both boys. Out of all the items, my favorites are the ones hanging in the closet.
This morning, I balance our 11-month-old on my hip and open wide the closet doors to survey the overalls. I run my fingers through the many different pairs. Navy. Jean. Khacki. Red. Patterned. Plain. They have endured high chair debris, washing machine cycles, and changing table wrestling. A family’s history hangs on the hangers.
The mother covered her daughter with a pink blanket covered with big hearts of different colors. She tucked in the sides around her body to keep her warm. Taking the handles behind the wheelchair, the mother pushed her onto the sidewalk to make her way into her daughter’s school. The wheelchair carries all her various supplies and includes her music player. It is her home for she is unable to move or speak or share. Though technically a teenager, her daughter is in my three-year-old’s class.
Our daycare is a place that welcomes medically-fragile children to receive the care they need while their parents work. James’ class is full of children who run by the aid of wheels or walkers or their own two-feet. There are those who breathe on their own and those that run with an oxygen tank by their side. It is the Kingdom of God – a place where all are celebrated as children equally worthy of love and nurture.
The gift of watching this mother prepare her daughter for school is all the Valentine’s Day moment I need. It is the picture of Love-Made-Flesh – a Love that sets up home in the pain, finds hope in the ashes, and shows up each day as a steward of the bittersweet gifts of Life.
My movements were quick and frantic. The minutes raced by. I rushed around the locker room as I cleaned up after a run at the gym. The countdown was on to pick up the boys from daycare.
Her movements were slow and cautious. The minutes slowed down as she worked to get dressed and faced the task of getting her feet covered for the winter weather. Her walker stood next to her but it was of no help in this moment.
As she brought out the tool she used to help get her socks on, I turned off the hair-dryer and set it down. “May I?” I asked.
“With the coming of the end, a great bustle and business begins to shake the nations of the world. The time of the end is the time of the massed armies, ‘wars and rumors of war,’ of huge crowds moving this way and that, of men ‘withering away for fear,’ of flaming cities and sinking fleets, of smoking lands laid waste, of technicians planning grandiose acts of destruction. The time of the end is the time of the Crowd: and the eschatological message is spoken in a world where, precisely because of the vast indefinite roar of armies on the move and the restlessness of turbulent mobs, the message can be heard only with difficulty…
To leave the city of death and imprisonment is surely not bad news except to those who have so identified themselves with their captivity that they can conceive no other reality and no other condition. In such a case, there is nothing but tribulation: for while to stay in captivity is tragic, to break away from it is unthinkable – and so more tragic still.
What is needed then is the grace and courage to see that ‘the Great Tribulation’ and ‘the Great Joy’ are really inseparable, and that the ‘Tribulation’ becomes ‘Joy’ when it is seen as the victory of life over death…
It is not the last gasp of exhausted possibilities but the first taste of all that is beyond conceiving as actual.”
~Thomas Merton, Raids on the Unspeakable..excerpt found in Watch for the Light: Readings for Advent and Christmas
As Thomas Merton writes, Jesus was born in a stable away from the world that crowded together for the census. Away from the machines of individualism, consumption, and fear, I seek to walk farther out to the fields so that I can be one of those who receives the good news of new life born in the most unlikely places. The magnetism to the world’s highest esteemed products – success and happiness – is strong. In this new year, may I work on my own personal training – strengthening my muscles to break away as I practice…
We rehearsed it as we went from house to house. “Merry Christmas,” we would practice. By the time we got to the next one, the anticipation of ringing the doorbell was too much and the words would fail him. He would just stick out his hand holding the bag of gingerbread to give to our neighbor. Despite our rehearsals and our plans, our three year old is our wild card. Our surprise.
I love the intentional time this season gives to shower those around us with love. The gifts thoughtfully purchased and delicately wrapped. The stove watched over as the gingerbread loaves reach completion to show love to neighbors. The decorations hung around the house to usher in the joy of the season.
The list that once caused me anxiety now gives me a sense of relief as each item is crossed off in completion
Now comes the real Christmas.
Written in Celebration of Dad’s Birthday, October 2013
Stepping out of the car, we would open all the doors and begin putting together our backpacks. Zip-lock baggies full of weathered camping supplies distributed amongst our packs. Freeze-dried meals and small snacks divided. The tents and sleeping bags strapped on. Dad would carry the majority of the weight while still allowing me to carry my part so that I may know the feeling of bearing the weight of life’s bare essentials. The hours spent combing Quest Outdoors, turning over the basement in search of supplies, plotting maps, and checking the list twice led up to that moment as we strapped on our backpacks and began to walk.
Turning one last time to see the car, we would say goodbye to civilization and enter into God’s creation – where all of our plans and control faded away and we were at the mercy of the wilderness. Like the creatures that roamed the hills, for a short time we would become those who dwelled in the wild.
I always loved the way my dad’s soul would seem to come alive underneath the canopy of trees. Awe overtook him and he became a child again – marveling at the wonder of creation. He would identify the towering trees above us in their Latin name. He would point out the plants. He would anticipate the beauty that lay right around the corner. Nature is my dad’s sacred and magical playground. It is the place where I learned some of the most important lessons life can offer.