From the upstairs window, I watched their coming and going. The wife, tentative in her steps and the husband, with an armload of groceries, one hand against the small of her back. I noticed their commitment to one another, their quietness and settled joy.
I mostly avoided them. We, the upstairs tenants and them, below. My baby brother and I lived together. What a life it was. Barely getting by, outrageous behaviors, dangerous rendezvouses and mostly him being certain I was okay and I less caring and attentive to him, carried on in my reckless ways.
My brother and I were together, it’s an invitation to be safe I will forever treasure.
All the while, the diminutive couple surely observed us. Never confronted or complained about our noise up above, only nodded occasionally in a knowing way.
One Sunday I was brave. I watched from our window as their sedan found its spot. The gentleman had gotten his wife settled in and I walked lightly down the stairs and stood facing his caring eyes.
And he did not look away.
“How can I know the will of God?” I asked with timidity.
Close to forty years ago and I can’t say what he answered, only that his tone was gentle and he gave me a small book.
A book I only skimmed, a paperback long ago packed or trashed away.
The will of God is not a detailed plan, more a captivating pursuit.
I believe it is simply and profoundly a decision
to trust and to renew that trust as often as necessary.
To sit quietly waiting.
To consider how decades later, a church going senior citizen’s response matters.
There was no correction in his tone, no critical reply or even “come to church with us next Sunday.”
Instead, he instructed me to be a seeker. He gave me a book. He compelled me towards words and the Word.
This morning, I sat in the place I love. I pondered all of the voices of advisors…
Podcasters, those who believe they’re gifted with prophecy, experts on enneagram and such…people who are benefiting themselves by joining the trauma healing (bandwagon) force.
The voices are loud, lauding quick and exciting never known to be possible results.
Yesterday walking, I mentally answered a question.
Who is God to you?
I answered. “God is my creator.”
Remembering the sufficiency of that astounding truth, I watched the sun for more than a glance.
The golden light landed on my art. I watched it become more outlined.
Become a window.
So I sat for a minute more and answered my heart’s question.
The will of God is for me to see Him. To settle my search inviting other relief or rescue.
To see God on a chilly morning because I sat still long enough.
And to remember the value of a gentle response, never haughty and a hindrance.
Hopeful, always hope.
“Joyful is the person who finds wisdom, the one who gains understanding.” Proverbs 3:13 NLT
I will go before you and level the exalted places. Isaiah 45:2
I dreamt I attended the funeral ceremony of a kind and giving man, a steadfast friend of our community. I suppose I’d seen the photos of others who attended, who shared their thoughts on being there.
The faces of the family left to live without him, the dignitaries who gave thoughts and tributes and other individuals there to witness the event and offer support.
I noticed the posture of some, shoulders slightly bent, carrying a burden and I noticed downcast faces on some who stood at the podium.
But, I saw strength in many; perhaps, they told of how this gentleman taught them to be stronger.
So, I dreamt that I was there and after the ceremony was over, one of the speakers approached me to say hello. It was then that we shared our own experiences of knowing the man who passed away.
It was then I shared,
He always spoke with the kindness and sincerity in hoping the best for me every time I had the chance to talk with him.
The listener listened with the same kindness as I added, “He was like a father to many, I believe.”
Every morning, I add thick circles around my prayers. One in particular might be circled until I’m gone.
Because when I think “no need” life shows me I could be wrong.
I’ve told a very few people on rare occasions that someone felt like a father to me.
It’s super personal and often uncomfortable to express that you wish you’d had your father a little longer or worse yet, that he had been a different person.
Now, I’m seeing why I dreamed that dream. Often, writing helps me unravel the causes. It wasn’t the FB photos of the funeral attendants, it was a thoughtful documentary about redeeming our days and the days we decide were all wrong.
Yesterday, I watched “Love, Tom”, a documentary about the life of songwriter Tom Douglas.
The story is told as his response to a younger man struggling who says beseechingly so in a letter to Tom.
You’d think he might not even respond.
After all, he’s famous, the recipient of many awards.
He lives in Nashville and is beyond the early angst of a creative’s struggle. I’ve commented on Instagram to writers when feeling a likemindedness…no reply. You realize they’re famous and you are not.
I’ve promised myself if I write again, a book more well-known or become a better known artist, I’ll engage with the curious and kind followers who simply want to be closer to my craft and me, the creative behind it.
Tom wrote the young songwriter close to giving up an authentic letter.
The letter became this documentary.
And, I suppose because he’s a creative he told some beautifully, tender and honest things about himself.
About redemption and about a sort of rethinking his father who struggled’s reputation.
I won’t spoil it for you. I hope you’ll watch it for more than a couple of reasons:
A well-known responding to another who feels invisible, a parent relating to a child, a child forgiving a parent and a creative who learned not to pursue creativity harder than he pursued the Creator.
Redemption, he suggests we keep after it until we’re gone.
Now, I see that the dream wasn’t really about the man laid to rest, it was about the other prominent person who listened when I expressed my feelings over the loss and with his response and his eyes, he agreed and together our grief was encircled.
I had to slow my steps, intent on only art canvases, make the beeline to the back and hurry on. No eye contact, small talk time, just me and my fast walking.
I needed to halt or bump into a woman with her son. She had a shuffle step that was familiar, I remembered a mama long ago who had an injury leaving one hip higher than the other. So, I thought this might be her and I’d be able to ask how she’s doing along with her now adult son.
Strangely, it wasn’t her, instead a younger version.
Still, our eyes met and she exhaled a big sigh. I asked “Been shopping all day?” And she replied that they’d been in the street since eight o’clock and she’d been takin’ her mama to all her doctors.
I saw her then, saw her loyalty and I added as I walked beside and then ahead of her,
“I remember those days. They are so hard. Get home and find some rest.”
She nodded, thanked me.
I bought eight 8×10 canvases and carried on.
I noticed the line was short at Chick Fil A and I was thirsty. I ordered my little indulgence, kids meal, fruit not fries and tea and answered “Lisa” as the young man calculated my change.
He asked how my day was going and I said “good” as I sensed the awkward in between, the task of giving me change and so I asked “Are you having a good day?”
His deep dark eyes met mine and the rising up of his chunky cheeks in a smile beamed as he happily answered, “Yes, I am.”
I rounded the drive thru line and watched a couple of boys/young men play “rock, paper, scissors” to determine who’d bring my order.
The one who lost sauntered over to my car and chuckled, “I just took your order!”
I smiled back and said that’s so funny because I was about to ask if you had a brother.
Serendipity, sort of, the chance to share kindness again.
Last stop, Publix for collards for tomorrow. Intentional here too, I have a short mental list and on a mission. The soup aisle is running low on chicken broth and my path intersects with a shopper who doesn’t hesitate to look up and say “Hey! How ya’ doing?”
I smile, realizing I don’t know her and she keeps talking and adds “I’m about to cook a big pot of soup for my family!”
“Sounds good!” I go my way and she goes hers until we’re both in the parking lot, cars loaded and I hear “toot toot” from her little SUV and my eyes meet her excitement in getting to wave goodbye to me, someone she doesn’t know.
I’d say it’s just accidental, this thrice encountering kindness from strangers and reciprocating.
But, since I have a thing for things in 3’s, I know it was heavenly, this afternoon of kind conversation and willingness to be seen.
Unknowingly, three people changed the course of my day from sullen to seeking, from deficient in hope to hoping.
Three people, working in community with my Good Father yesterday.
“Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.” Hebrews 13:2 ESV
“Running away was not in her character.”, Google provided this definition for character, the word that settled as I’d read in Isaiah about Mary before there was Mary.
Just now, I’ve named this windowsill decoration. I’ve been pondering why I love her, why she comes down from the attic every December.
She’s not an angel as angels are known. She has no wings, no halo, no aura. She’s holding a tray with an unadorned cypress and a few red apples.
I see her as one who brings, one who offers and loves.
Irregardless and unrelentingly.
Silly me, it’s a ceramic statue.
But, she has no shoes on her feet, the garland of green crowning her head is only leaves and so, I see and
I sort of see me.
Little have I to give in comparison to others if giving is measured by grand or perfect.
Little am I in comparison to many, my gifts to the world pale in comparison.
Last night, in the before bed tidying, I discovered some of the manger scene had gone missing.
The little felted figures, the angel, a wise man, a shepherd and Joseph were nesting like a family of birds in the tree.
I smiled with the discovery.
I’m not sure the reason, perhaps just boredom or longing for something I can’t know.
What the mover of these had in mind for these or for me.
They’ll stay there until packed away for next year and when I look at the intentional redecoration, it’s celebration that I see.
Celebration, not imperfection in my tiny bit tedious decorating this year.
How is it I’ve never thought of Mary as a “giver”, one who questioned the reason behind things; but, set her heart on her part in the story, her character in the scene at the manger.
“For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” Isaiah 9:6 ESV
I have a canvas on the easel resting with edit number “several”. I’m envisioning the position of the figure sort of off center.
Now walking away, staring into some mysterious distant place, I see her being reimagined.
I believe she may be a “keeper” to remind me.
A settled soul facing forward, a gift of something fruit or flower cradled at her chest and she may be simply waiting.
She may have the stance of offering not taking.
And I believe I’m sweetly loving the thought of that.
The thought of giving, not expecting, of resting and not resisting.
Of waiting for what’s within me to create what’s meant for me not to be without.
“The Giver” will be the name of the painting.
This morning, by accident I found the words I thought might be in a book about the moon.
“The sun will beam and the moon will glow. The light will stay, little child. God is with you today and tonight. The light will stay, child. The light will stay.” Me (Look at the Moon) (?)
Someone in a prayer group I’m a member of commented, “Pray for me because of this root of bitterness trying to grow.” And the replies understood the concerns, the need for prayer…even urgency.
Because bitterness begins in secret and then the roots grow thick and stronger and threaten us until they take over.
What is bitterness? I could share my list of things that are secret and of things I’ve vented in conversation with others (about others).
Roots destroy fertile ground. Love and peace cannot thrive when bitterness keeps growing.
“Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord. See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God; that no “root of bitterness” springs up and causes trouble, and by it many become defiled;” Hebrews 12:14-15 ESV
More importantly, our roots destroy relationships with others. Bitterness that makes sense only makes us sadder.
Sometimes I look around and see how very different I am and feel from others and I remind myself to bring peace not judgment, love not frustration and a subtle but steady light that points to the source of my joy (even if it’s dim on the days questions, doubt or bitterness crouch at my door.)
When Elizabeth was born, I sang “Deep and Wide” over and over and over. I can’t say why (other than God) I sang it over and over from the first moment I cradled her tiny head in my hands.
With Henry, it’s been “This Little Light of Mine” and like his sister, he doesn’t seem to mind that it’s the same words over and over. I want him to see my light as I want Elizabeth to know the depth of mine and God’s love.
Love one another.
Don’t grow bitter.
Your life has no space for hatred to take over. Only room for joy to grow high enough to create a canopy for all who stand near you.
“Forget not to show love unto strangers: for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.” Hebrews 13:2 ASV
I’ve never met an angel or have I perhaps, only dimmed and unnoticed by distraction?
I believe I shall notice more gently, silence the bitter banter of all other.
I was invited to write about “Hope” for an Advent series last month. My thoughts were prompted by a surprise. You know that verse about how hope deferred can make us heartsick? Don’t throw away or feel ridiculous to still hope. One day, maybe today hope will be gifted to you.
“Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a desire fulfilled is a tree of life.” Proverbs 13:12 ESV
Here’s my contribution:
Fulfilling Signs of Hope
The reunification came as a surprise. My brother’s wife, whispered to me as we celebrated a new coming nephew,
“I found a Bible. It has your name on it.”
Going through the remnants of my mother’s abandoned home, she discovered it. A strange Bible it was, at least for a woman in her thirties, oversized rich leather, more than substantial in size words. Someone gave it to me, and I gave it to my mama once I “graduated” in my faith to a more proper women’s Bible.
Over the course of sixty plus years, I have owned four Bibles. One, a tiny little Gideon’s New Testament and Psalms, the hefty one I passed on to my mother, a pretty leather one suited for women’s groups and my current one, a fabric covered blue Bible for journaling, for telling myself truths and stories in the margins.
Last week, I misplaced my Bible. I felt lost.
I had been traveling and packed it to reference its importance as I spoke to a group of women. Unpacked and sorting, everything was placed back in its place, except for my Bible. Anxious and confused, how could I be without that one final item?
I decided to pray, and my prayer surprised me. Rather than simply “asking and knocking” for the door to be opened to me finding my Bible, I found myself so very broken and grateful. I thanked God for the desperation, the relentless longing for my Bible, for the broken-heartedness I was feeling to be without it. I found my Bible in the place I’d tucked it away for safekeeping.
I found my hope again, the “withness” of God beautifully demonstrated.
In the margin of the first chapter of the Book of Isaiah, I have written, “Who are today’s Isaiahs?” Isaiah spoke warnings of disaster. Isaiah spoke of sin that would bring judgment then he proclaimed beautiful redemptive promises for us through a “man of sorrows” who would make eternity with God possible. The pages of my Bible are strewn with notes, sketches of women and color to remind me of the words that were significant in some way and will continue to be.
In the seventh chapter of Isaiah, we read of Ahaz, the King of Judah refusing to ask God for a sign. He announces he doesn’t want to put God to the test. Isaiah speaks up and questions his reluctance. He tells him you are testing the patience of your people, surely you won’t continue to test the patience of God as well. (Isaiah 7:10-13) Since God is not a God to be tested, a sign was given.
“Therefore, the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call His name Immanuel” Isaiah 7:14 ESV
Immanuel, God with us.
How do you see evidence of hope?
Are you prone to tangible evidence being necessary or have you seen the dots connecting the scattered paths of your past to your present?
My sister in law could not have known the part she would play in my need of hope. I’d long considered the Bible I gave my mother to be lost or discarded. You see, I passed this Bible on to my mama, who believed in God but had reasons to not believe in hope.
A widow with little resources and an incapacitating illness, she’d begun to decline and spend most days alone.
As a child, we were not regular church-going people and so it was perhaps a bold gesture to give her a Bible; disrespectful, haughty or even judgmental, I suppose. I gave her my Bible with no explanation or expectation, only a hope that it may comfort. If it did, I cannot know.
I’d hoped it would be seen simply as love.
I wanted her to see I wasn’t afraid of church anymore, that I was taking a tentative chance on hope.
I cannot know.
But, the hope of it being gifted back to me, this is the evidence of God with me, seeing me, hearing the secret murmurs of my heart. The thick Bible is pristine. There are barely any marks of pencil and the pages barely looked thumbed. There are no places where pages have been turned down for later.
There is very little evidence that my mama read it.
Nevertheless, the underside of the front cover has my full name written in elementary school cursive, my daughter’s. There are construction paper faded Sunday school verses my son or daughter proudly delivered to me as we reunited on the wooden pews for worship.
There is one oddly compelling note on the very last page in my handwriting,
“When I give an account of my life…”
When I give an account of my life, I will include this Bible and its story as evidence of me being known by God and of hope.
Perhaps, this Christmas, we should all sit quietly and consider the birth of Jesus, the evidence of hope, the gift of a knowing and loving God being with us.
Where have you seen hope this year?
Has it been difficult to be hopeful in this vulnerable and bitter world?
Have you focused on the evidence of hopelessness all around us more than the hope in the miraculous although unseen, Jesus Christ, the Savior of the world?
May you be surprised by hope this year, a resurgence of belief in what you long for and long to see. What have you yet to see that God long ago promised is coming?
The reasons to hope are immeasurable and too beautiful for us to fully know, the coming fulfillment or our hopes.
All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken to the prophet: “Behold the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call His name Immanuel” (which means, God with us). Matthew 1:23 ESV