Sunday, August 29, 2010

My Neighbor's Gate

A neighbor several blocks from my home has been posting poetry on her gate for sometime now. Snug in a nifty weather tight box secured to her fence, these one page offerings range from Shakespeare to Garrison Keillor. At least once a week I walk past her house just to see what she’s posted.

I’m not sure why she does it. Some of the offerings she posts are inspiring, others are charming or even funny. Whatever the intent, she asks nothing. The words are simply there for the passerby to embrace or ignore.

At the opposite end of the same block is a quiet house that sits back off the street, partly shaded by an immense and ancient Magnolia tree. My friend, Sandra, lives there. She is also dying there. Her family has been gathering to comfort both her and each other as cancer has taken a new and ferocious hold on her small and failing body.

Sandra doesn’t have poetry posted to her gate; her front yard does not include a fence. But Sandra’s heart has been actively posting for years: that God loves the world he has created and cares about our journey—hers, yours and mine. Perhaps it was these words of her favorite song that were posted in large print on her heart years ago which my friend and I saw reflected in Sandra’s lovely face when we were together for the last time:

"Let not your heart be troubled,"

His tender word I hear,

And resting on His goodness,

I lose my doubts and fears;

Though by the path He leadeth

But one step I may see:

His eye is on the sparrow,

And I know He watches me.

I have wondered if I had a gate with a nifty weather tight box secured to it, what words I would post for others to read. There are countless worthy of a good trumpeting.

But as I think of Sandra this week, her week of slipping away, I’m reminded that hers will be my fate—probably sooner than I would choose—and it occurs to me that all the inspiring and charming words written since man made his first jot will not matter very much then. What will matter is not what words I know but Whose words I know.

His whose eye is on the sparrow

His who loved the world so much that He gave his one and only Son, and

His, the Son, who loved the world so much that he said “yes” so that anyone who believes in him will not perish but have a meaningful and never-ending life.

That would be the offering of my post. And as with the words read on my neighbor’s gate, one is free to embrace or ignore the offering. But unlike my neighbor who appropriately asks nothing of her passersby, I cannot. I must stand at my gate and implore: think, consider carefully for His words are life.

Jesus answered, "Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give him will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life." John 4:13-14

Sunday, August 15, 2010

A Gift for Barbara Rose

I know that you have felt it too from time to time - a nudge, a peculiar feeling in the stomach that this is different; this is not a should - this is a must. It might have been

that note that needed sending

that idea that needed exploring

that woman standing in front of Rite Aid with broken front teeth and asking for money.

But the human doing* that I am will argue with the human being that I wish I was

telling me that I’m much too busy today

tomorrow will be different

I’ll be better organized, better prepared.

It’s usually a lie. There is precious little difference between the manic of my todays and the unbalanced pace of my tomorrows. Yet I have been learning. Perhaps that’s a gift of my cancer. I’m learning that to assume I—and anyone I care about—owns a tomorrow is, at best, to misapprehend reality. I’m also learning that to assume those occasional nudges can be shifted to tomorrow is to risk an opportunity that might not be regained. (I have never seen the woman with the broken front teeth again.) And I risk losing a blessing that can be far beyond my imagining. I want to tell you a story. It’s a story that belongs to our granddaughter, Elizabeth, and her mother, Amy.

It was about five years ago. Little Elizabeth Claire was in her early jewelry making phase. She had been given a box of glass beads, all quite beautiful to her seven year old eyes. With the use of a spool of special black thread she created what she knew were wonders.

The house next door to Elizabeth was a rental. It had suffered a continual turnover of new occupants, none of which had been particularly good neighbors. The Fall of that year, however, ushered in a new family that had potential. I’ll call them the Baxters. Now, not only did these new neighbors have two small cats, but Elizabeth’s mother, having just delivered a welcome basket of her famous homemade scones and jam, made the happy announcement that the Baxters also had a daughter, Barbara Rose. Elizabeth was delighted.

Alas, how quickly delight can turn to dismay: Barbara Rose was 12 years old! How could a 7 year old girl connect with a woman of 12? Elizabeth’s eyes fell on her bead box and she had a plan. “I’ll make her a necklace!” And with that she measured and cut her special black thread and began to string glass beads together into what she thought was a necklace so beautiful that any woman would be proud to wear it. Finished, she lovingly wrapped her creation in brown construction paper using as much scotch tape as she could to seal it well, which is to say that she used a lot, a whole lot. But her gift was finally ready for a royal presentation.

Unknown to Elizabeth, her mother had been watching her activity and measuring her excitement with a growing concern. Here was a tender and generous heart eager to connect in this kind way but, Amy’s mother-heart worried, what if this new neighbor didn’t see the same beauty that Elizabeth did? Pre-teens aren’t always known for their generosity and sensitivity. Feeling protective, Amy wondered if she was being wise in allowing her daughter to go through with this gift idea. But either way, she finally decided, this would prove to be a valuable life lesson. She could not have known then the full meaning of that thought.

As they knocked on the Baxter’s door, excitement grew. Barbara Rose was called and after introductions were made, the construction paper packet was carefully placed in her hand. It was a total triumph: the woman of 12 loved the creation of the 7 year old. Putting it on with glee, Barbara Rose wore Elizabeth’s necklace the rest of the afternoon and even to school the following day.

It was 2 mornings later that the Baxters stood at Elizabeth’s front door. Mrs. Baxter, clearly upset with eyes swollen and red, was trying to thank Elizabeth again for the beautiful necklace she had made and the memory that the Baxters would always cherish because of it. “Barbara Rose,” Mrs. Baxter began, “had your necklace on yesterday when... She was just trying to catch her bus so she was looking the wrong way. She didn’t see them coming...she was hit by 2 cars. She is, she’s...gone.”

So a mother’s wisdom was nudged to take a risk and a child’s spontaneous gift of glass beads strung together into a little necklace offered and received in welcome and friendship was the last gift received by Barbara Rose Baxter while she was on this earth. Who could have known.

*Conformed to His Image, Kenneth Boa, pg. 22

Sunday, August 1, 2010

The Game, Part 3 his beloved children, our Father works a most kind good through our most grievous losses...In the testing ground of evils, your faith becomes deep and real, and your love becomes purposeful and wise.” David Powlison

The Game, Part 3

Part 3 of 3

For I assume that by knowing the truth you mean knowing things as they really are.” Plato

What does one say to a stranger on the telephone who may or may not know you and, if they do, may or may not want to talk to you? I wrote out a possible script, sent up an arrow prayer and dialed the number for Judge Gene Thomas. I hoped I would remember to breathe.

Hearing a soft and genteel, “Hello?” I very nearly hung up.

“Mrs. Thomas? Mrs. Gene Thomas?

“Why, yes,”she said.

Quickly moving my tablet closer, I read: “I apologize for intruding. You don’t know me but my name is Judith. I’m trying to locate my father, Evan Thomas, who may have been the brother of Gene Thomas, your husband.”

Silence. I think I counted five heart beats.

“Mrs. Thomas? Would you mind talking with me for a minute?”

It took her a moment longer to finally wrap her mind around who I was. “Judith? You mean...Is this little Judy? Evan’s girl?”

“I...Yes, I think I am.”

Surprised but not unhappy, the widow of Judge Gene Thomas welcomed my call. Pleasantries were exchanged, confirmations were made. This was indeed the family of my roots.

“Call me Althea,” she said after a bit.

Learning from me that mother had died, Althea spoke kindly of her then added, “We all loved her, Judy. Your mother was quality. Real quality.”

After an uncomfortable pause she then asked,“So, have you talked to Evan?”

“No. He is alive then?”

“Oh yes. He’s alive. His wife passed away just a few weeks ago and I think he’s staying with his son for a few months.”

I couldn’t decide if the timing was perfect or horrid but this I knew: calling an absent father at the home of an unknown half brother sounded as pleasant an undertaking as my last root canal. Unwilling to be convinced by Althea’s assurances that they would all be delighted to hear from me, I asked if she or someone else would be willing to act as a go-between, to give him a little time to prepare and also to protest if that was how he might feel. I could not afford to talk to Evan Thomas if he did not want to talk to me.

Calls were made; Evan did indeed want to connect and right away. But I decided to wait until the weekend when my husband could be with me. A date and time for the phone call was set.

If one doesn’t know what to say on the telephone to a stranger who is an aunt, what does one say on the telephone to a stranger who is one’s progenitor? I have no idea and I have no memory of what I did say. What I do remember is my husband sitting across our breakfast table watching me dial the phone at the agreed upon time then reaching across to hold my hand while I waited for Evan Thomas to answer.

He picked up after one ring. With his quiet and low “Hello” I began the long hoped for journey to unravel the Mystery of the Absent Father.

We love these reuniting stories. Or at least we think we do. Surely it’s embedded in our DNA - this hope, this expectation of wrongs being made right, of brokenness being restored. I remember watching a story on television once of a reunited mother and daughter. Everyone was bawling and laughing. The audience was ecstatic. But seldom are cameras invited back 6 months later. I think my husband was probably right when he said that the reasons for a parent being absent are hardly ever good.

During the first few months of our getting acquainted, Evan and I enjoyed daily long distance telephone conversations and weekly letters. He was charming and he was funny. His letters were interesting and he answered hundreds of my questions with patience. We were at the “audience was ecstatic” stage.

People began to respond to my personal ad shortly after it had been published in the newspaper. Ironically, no one was able to tell me anything about Evan Thomas' current whereabouts (which I had already learned), but several people who had been childhood neighbors wrote or phoned to share their memories with me of his family and what it was like growing up in a small town before the war. These were generous, kind people and I treasure those letters.

But the bogeyman was lurking around the corner. Having taken several months to get acquainted, I agreed it was time to meet. My husband and I spent some time there, Evan spent some time with us. Sadly, the man I had come to know through his letters was quite different from the one I came to know in person. The whispers regarding his character and misdeeds began to appear to be true. Increasingly inappropriate behavior quite suddenly required clear boundaries to be drawn. My alarms were met at first with apology and then with sarcasm and disdain. He was a conflicted man who said he wanted to do right but he couldn’t - or wouldn’t. Angered by the boundaries that my husband insisted on and that I was grateful for, he died four years later having never spoken with me again.

So I had met my begetter and learned more of my tribe. My questions had been put to rest and there was nothing left to yearn. But it came with a cost - progress usually does. Hard work with an excellent counselor and a judicious use of an antidepressant proved helpful for a season and, by God’s grace, I regained my center, as they say.

Sometime later I was asked by a friend if I had regretted my decision to risk so much for the answers that I found. Given what I had learned, she wondered if I would be willing to do it again. I think she was surprised to hear me say that I absolutely would. The Mystery of the Absent Father was solved. An ending was written and while it wasn’t the ending I would choose, I at least knew how things really were. I gained far more than I lost: in learning the truth, I was set free.

Allowing God’s word the time to penetrate my mind, my heart and my hurt has healed my spirit so deeply that while there was profound disappointment, there has been no bitterness. This was my decision and my risk and God allowed me this grace to know that no one, except Jesus Christ, can love anyone perfectly.

Evan told me once that when I was very small I used to run to him squealing “Daddy!” throwing my arms around his leg. He said I ran so hard to him one time I cut my lip on his knee. “Funny the things you remember,” he said. I thought of the fig tree and the picket fence and a little girl’s quiet waiting.

“Yes,” I said, knowing he could never understand. “Funny.”

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