Finding Life (in obvious places): Packing Up

I’m all packed and ready to go. I stayed in tonight to get ready. A Friday night, with nobody around and nothing on the television. All I can hear are the sounds of my childhood as scenes from my past flash through my mind, with a good bottle of wine to keep them there.

I found a picture of my father, posing next to his motorcycle, just before he ran off with it.

I found a letter from Julie, written when she was in high school, with nineteen exclamation points and seven hearts with arrows in them.

I found a book about Abraham Lincoln my grandmother gave me, with my name printed in pencil, along with “Age 9.”

I found a newspaper clipping about my uncle’s death. The headline read, “Man Shot By Jealous Husband.”

I found a library book that was three years overdue.

I found some poem I had written in high school about a soldier that died.

I found a picture of my mother in a bathing suit, with the words “To My Hubby” written across the top and “I Love You” across the bottom.

I found seven New Testaments given to me by my mother and her friends, the Gideons.

I put everything I found in one of three big boxes I’d gotten from work and poured a cup of wine as I looked at them in the corner, near the door. Now I’m sitting here, looking at the bare walls and empty shelves. Just like when I moved in. Like nothing’s happened.

I can now hear the fat lady singing along with the radio and laughing at the DJs. This wine isn’t as good as the guy said.

Those three boxes are still in the corner of the attic, after all these years. Joined by weights and broken toys and unused appliances — signs of life well spent, now tossed aside. Allison’s paintings of the children and our time together look on somewhat curiously. I haven’t been up there in years, but I wouldn’t let go of them for the world.

“Daddy’s Girls II”  Oil painting of children with father by Kathryn Morris Trotter

 from Gabriela Lima

{This is part of a larger work entitled Finding Life (in obvious places). You can follow the story by clicking on the title in the tags below.}

Finding Life (in obvious places): A Call to Mom

I knew the bank would laugh at me trying to get a loan, so I called my mother.

“Hello?” She exhaled, then took a deep puff on her cigarette.

“Hi Mom.”

“Is this my son.”

“Of course it’s your son, Mom.”

“Oh, okay. It’s just been so long since you called. I usually call you. So, how have you been?”

“Fine, mom.”

“And Julie?”

“She’s okay, too. I guess.”

“What do you mean you guess? You are still seeing Julie, aren’t you?”

“Yes, mom.  Mom, listen. I have a favor to ask.”

“So that’s why you called. Well it’s good to know I can still do something for you. What is it?”

“Don’t be so bitter.”

“Who’s being bitter? Tell me the favor.” Exhale. Deep puff.

“I want to buy a house.”

“A house?”

“Let me finish. Yes, a house. And I’ll need to take out a loan.”

“A house? Why a house? What’s wrong with your apartment?”

“Nothing’s wrong, I just want my own place, that’s all.”

“My son, the spot welder, wants his own place. Why not build a new house? Hire a gardener and a maid…”

“Stop it, Mom.  Listen, just forget it. I only wanted… just forget it.”

“Now, now. I’m only teasing. Don’t be so sensitive. How can I help?”

“I only wanted to ask you to co-sign.”

“Me?”

“Yes, you. Who else would I ask?”

“Well, why not Julie’s father? I assume this means you two…”

“Stop assuming things. We aren’t getting married. I want the house for myself. That’s it. Okay?”

“You’re so much like your father. Always thinking of yourself.”

“Okay, forget it. Forget I asked.”

“Now, now. I’ll co-sign already.”

“You will?”

“Sure. What have I got to lose?

“You don’t mind then?”

“No I don’t mind. Of course, you could save your money and come back home. You know that.”

“Yes, Mom. I know that. We’ve been through this.”

“Alright, already. I’ll co-sign. Is that all you wanted?

There was a long pause. I tried to clear my throat, but nothing came out. I was sorry I’d called her. Sorry I’d had to call her. Sorry I hadn’t called her more often.

“Can I take you out to dinner sometime?” I asked.

“You don’t have to.”

“No. I want to. How’s tomorrow?”

“Church.”

“After church.”

“Fine.  Or, you could join me for church?

“No. I mean. I don’t…. I’ll pick you up afterwards. Okay?”

“Fine.”

Well, it’s something. I’ve got mom to co-sign on the loan. I’m taking her out to dinner. It’s something.

I look at her photo on my dresser. Taken for her high school yearbook. She was going to become a nurse and travel overseas as a missionary. That was before dad came along. His motorcycle promised a more accessible journey to exotic places than she thought she’d ever go. Then I was conceived and her dreams of going to distant lands were replaced by days and nights of dirty diapers, incessant cries, and constant worries about bills and a husband always off even when he was around.

I look in the mirror and her voice comes back to me. “You’re just like your father.”

The Mirror of Parenting--great post about what to do when we see our own ugliness reflected in our kids

{This post is part of an extended work Finding Life (in obvious places) written in 1985 and currently being revised. To find the other posts in the series, click on the title in the tags below.}

Finding Life (in obvious places): Marriage and M&Ms

It was a usual Monday at work. Guys coming in unshaven, disheveled. Girls coming in made up, worn out underneath. Plenty of stories about how much the guys had drank and the girls had forgotten. Oh, they weren’t all like that. One guy had gotten pulled over by the cops and didn’t come in at all. Nobody made his bail.

On break, Ralph asked me how my weekend was.

“Okay.”

“You go out with that girl of yours? Julie?”

“Yeah, we went out.”

“Boy, she’s something. Bet she’s great in the sack, huh?”

I smiled and said, “Wouldn’t you like to know?”  He was eating peanut M&Ms and offered me some. “You know, I saw this house yesterday,” I said.

“Yeah?”

“It was for sale and I think I might just get it.”

“Are you and Julie thinking…”

Pages

“No, no. It’s not that. I’m just… tired of the apartment.  You know…”

“Yeah, it gets to you.”

“So, it’s a great two-story house in the old part of town.”

“Better be careful. Those things are rat traps. You sure…”

“No. This one’s great. I mean, heating costs’ll be out of this world, but…. well, I’ve got some put away.”

“Working in this place? Come on!”

“No, really. I’ve been saving up.”

“Listen, it’s your life. But I’m saying you’re better off in the apartment until you can find a wife that’ll work. That Julie works at the bank, doesn’t she?”

“I’m not marrying Julie!”

“Hey, sorry. It’s none of my business. I, just, well, I just don’t want you rushing into something. It’s tough enough, working at this place, without having a house to care for. By yourself.”

“Yeah. I know. I just, well… I need something.”

“Ain’t Julie taking care of that?” He laughed so hard he coughed up his last three M&Ms. I gave him the change to buy another package. He came back and offered me more.

“You know,” he said slowly, careful in thought, “marriage ain’t so bad as they say. I know I give my wife a hard time, but truth is I wouldn’t know what I’d do without her. She’s a great girl.”

“That’s nice.”

“No, I mean it. Before I got married, I was staying out late, coming to work all hungover. I’m a changed man, and I have her to thank.”

“Well, I don’t drink that much.”

“That’s not my point. Listen, I’m only saying this cause I’m your friend. You better hang on to that Julie. She’ll make a great wife someday.”

I shook my head.

“Just you wait. But not too long. You hear me?” He went off and started talking to a group about drinking beer.

I went back to work and thought about marriage. My grandparents. Constantly yelling and screaming at each other. Especially on Sundays, getting ready for church. Then Mom and Dad. Until Dad ran off and Mom was left with only me and my sister to yell at. That was marriage. A lot of yelling. Especially on Sundays.

Ralph got divorced about a year later. His wife caught him with his pants down parked in the driveway of her best friend. Ralph was never the same. He developed sugar diabetes and started blacking out and losing body parts, one at a time. His ex-wife felt sorry for him and married him again, took care of him until he died. She buried him with a package of peanut M&Ms.

{This is the third entry of a work of fiction called Life (in obvious places) I first wrote in 1985. To follow along with the story, click on the title in the tags below).

Finding Life (in obvious places): The House

Once again, I am beginning another writing assignment – taking a collection of stories I wrote in 1985 called Life (in obvious places) and adding a narrator’s perspective from 30 years later (in italics).  My plan is to write the first draft in serial form over the next several months.  I will continue to post on other subjects, such as “Mental Health Mondays,” so stayed tuned…

Finding Life (in obvious places) begins here and continues here…

Today, I walked down a street I used to wander as a child. Old houses an arm’s length apart, old paint peeling away at the edges. My grandparents used to live around here. Sunday afternoons we’d play croquet in the front yard and watch the neighbor, Mr. Shepler, sweating like a pig and yelling at his lawn mower and three children. Mrs. Shepler would come out with a pitcher of iced tea and listen to him curse the weather, how hot the summers were getting.

About five blocks away from the Sheplers’ I noticed a “For-Sale-By-Owner” sign. I decided to explore. It was a two-story house, with attic and basement. The white painting was graying and the gutters were falling down. The grass was high; tall dandelions covered the front yard, some creeping through the cracks in the sidewalk.

I thought of the family dinners where Grandma would put the dandelions we’d picked for her in a Mason jar and use it as a centerpiece, as proud as a peacock. Mother never understood the dandelions. She’d say they were just weeds the didn’t belong in the house, much less on the dinner table.

After Grandpa died, Mr. Shepler started moving Grandma’s yard — early on Sunday mornings so he could get to his own in the afternoon. Grandma was grateful, though she also believed he was committing a sin working on the Lord’s Day.  The other widow ladies would drive by slowly on their way to church, staring at the sweaty 75-year old with his unbuttoned short-sleeve shirt and Bermuda shorts. Grandma just closed her shades.

“What?” I moved over to his chair. He sat still, but motioned with his arms.

“Ya interested in buying? The owners are out. Moved to Chicago. I’m watchin’ over the place.”

“Well, I was just… Kinda walkin’ around.”

“Cliff Barton’s the name,” he said, lifting his arm.

“Robert Thompson,” we shook hands.

Ya lookin’ to move, Robert?”

“Well, I don’t know. Wouldn’t mind…”

“It’s quite a find. Solid foundation. Fenced in back yard. Quiet neighborhood. Course it’s old. Price of heating these days. But it’s a nice house. Got a lot of good use.”

“I’m sure it’s a fine house. It’s just… well, I wasn’t actually planning on buying my own…”

“Where ya from?”

“Around here. Stonehedge Apartments.”

“Got a family?”

“No. I’m a… well, I’m single.”

“Yeah? I don’t suppose a young man like yerself’d have much use for a house.”

“It’s not that. Actually, I have been thinkin’ about getting out of the apartment. I’m tired of paying in and not getting anything out of it.”

“You got a good job? That is, if you don’t mind my asking?”

“No… I mean I don’t mind. I, um, I work at Arvin’s.”

“And yer lookin’ for a place of your own?”

“Well, yeah, kind of…”–

“Here, let me show you the place. I’ll go grab the keys.”

I reach in my front pocket and pull out that same set of keys, gently worn from thirty years of use, held together with a John Deere key ring. I look out at the neighborhood — the same neighborhood Mr. Barton watched thirty years ago. It looks much the same, but so much has changed. Cliff Barton died in 1986, right after Allison moved in. Thomas was born. Then Mary came along.  For a while, the place was so full of life. Now it’s just me, sitting in this old lawn chair, looking for life in obvious places.

vintage metal lawn chairs

“vintage metal lawn chairs” from Rhonda Zoch in Home ~ Goods

Finding Life (in obvious places): Me and Claudia Matson

Some time ago, inspired by Leanne Sypes’ post about her accordion-file time capsule, I dug through my big-bin of writings.  Like my mind, there was great disorder — to-do lists from last month crammed in with devotionals from 1983.  Father’s Day notes my daughters had written to me brought a smile to my face, love letters from my wife that brought tears to my eyes.  I felt an overwhelming sense of sadness.  I am not at all at peace with who I’ve been –  as a husband, a father, a pastor. 

To cope, I retreat to my writing studio with a book I found — a book I wrote before becoming all these things, back when I was a 21-year old, single, aspiring writer totally unprepared for the war that would rage within (with mental illness), ill-equipped for responsibilities I would frantically assume.

What follows is the opening of Life (in obvious places).  It is a work of fiction, but as I do not possess a wild imagination, it is firmly based on experience.

Seven years ago, in Freshman English, I was staring at Claudia Matson and her large breasts when I heard Miss Farkas explain what keeping a journal meant to her.

“When I write, it’s as if I were tapping into hidden resources of images, ideas, and thoughts. My journal is an expression of my sacred Self.”

I laughed.

“You find that humorous, do you?” she asked me.

“Well… yeah.”

It was funny, you have to admit. Still, she made me apologize to the class and write, “I will not laugh at the teacher,” five hundred times.

Miss Farkas died last summer and Claudia Matson is in college becoming a nuclear physicist. And I have this journal. It’s personal, but it’s sure as hell isn’t sacred.  I’m writing for myself, but with people in mind. In my mind. Just about things that go on. It’s not a novel or anything.  Just a journal, for Christ’s sake.

It has something to do with my father, I guess. Or my family in general. Dad took off on his motorcycle one Sunday while we were in church. He didn’t leave a note or anything. He never did write much.

My sister started a personal diary shortly afterwards that I stole one night to read. It was mush. A bunch of emotional crap about love and how it should last forever and how horrible Dad was for leaving. I don’t know. Miss Farkas may be right, but how can you tell a story without laughing? It just doesn’t make sense,

So, I moved out of Mom’s house right after high school, started work at the factory, and took to apartment life like an ant to a molehill. That was four years ago. Now I’m wondering what I’m doing here and why I can’t just get married and live normally in some suburban white house district.

No, that’s not it. I’m just trying to figure out where I am and how I got here. And what I’m looking for when I go on walks for hours. I know it’s a pretty tall order.  Maybe I should have gone to college.

The Walk - Fallen leaves - Vincent van Gogh  -  Completion Date: 1889    Place of Creation: Saint-rémy, Provence

“The Walk – Fallen leaves – Vincent van Gogh – Completion Date: 1889 Place of Creation: Saint-rémy, Provence”

from Carlos Leiro in Van Gogh, Picasso, Joan Miro

Be More Like a Child at Christmas (and beyond)

smiling children

… Christmas is not only the mile-mark of another year, moving us to thoughts of self-examination: it is a season, from all its associations, whether domestic or religious, suggesting thoughts of joy. A man dissatisfied with his endeavours is a man tempted to sadness. And in the midst of the winter, when his life runs lowest and he is reminded of the empty chairs of his beloved, it is well he should be condemned to this fashion of the smiling face. Noble disappointment, noble self-denial are not to be admired, not even to be pardoned, if they bring bitterness. It is one thing to enter the kingdom of heaven maim; another to maim yourself and stay without. And the kingdom of heaven is of the childlike, of those who are easy to please, who love and who give pleasure.  (from “A Christmas Sermon” by Robert Louis Stevenson)

Sometimes we think we are doing good when we are our own worst critiques.  We count ourselves “noble” to set unattainable goals then feel miserable when we fall short (and repeat the cycle, or do even worse the next time).  We see this a lot this time of year, with new year’s resolutions, promises we make to ourselves or vows we make to others that this year things are going to be different.

I have a number of regrets in my life.

– I regret I’ve not been a more loving father.

– I regret I’ve not been a more attentive husband.

– I regret I’ve not been a more effective pastor.

I have so many regrets and now, perhaps foremost among them, I regret most that I have so many regrets.

In his “A Christmas Sermon”, Stevenson shows that this human instinct to become embittered with ourselves when we fail only leads us to be even more critical of others.  This was precisely the thing Jesus accused the Pharisees (the religious leaders of his day) of doing.  Trying to live not only by the letter but by the brush strokes of each letter of the law, they wound up enforcing it on others and overlooking ways they could improve themselves.

So what do we do instead?  Does this mean we set no goals, have low standards or no standards at all.  I don’t think so.  It means we re-direct our focus away from ourselves and to… children.  Children, says Stevenson, are easy to please.  They love.  And they give pleasure.  (I would only add that children properly raised display these “natural” qualities.  When you see a child whining about getting clothes for Christmas instead of electronic toys, you have to wonder what’s going on.)

But children can be good teachers.  Not that they are innocent, but they are more at ease being in a dependent relationship, being grateful for what they are given, sharing love freely instead of trying to bargain for something at a price, being pleased and giving pleasure.  Laughing for the sheer joy of laughing.

As I celebrate this Christmas season and look forward to a new year, I’m still going to set some goals, but I’ll base them on the right models.

Goal #1:   I’m going to be more grateful for what I’ve been given.

Goal #2:  I’m going to love more freely.

Goal #3:  I’m going to be pleased – in God, in others, and in myself.

How about you?  What are your goals this Christmas season (and beyond)?

(photo “Smile” from  Literally Photographysome rights reserved)

“It’s the End of the World As We Know It (and I feel fine)” by R.E.M. in Delight in Disorder (the soundtrack)

We married and moved to a three-room row house in South St. Louis.  Steam rising from asphalt. We passionately loved and more passionately fought. Out of our conjugal clash a child was conceived.

Seeking safety, we moved to the countryside and I became shepherd of a frozen flock. We welcomed our baby home to a Noah’s Ark nursery. I turned her first week into a music video – “God’s Masterpiece.” After a week, I was spent (or thought I was) and retreated to ancient texts and tired truths.

In the disorder, there were moments of delight and we conceived again.  Our graceful pilgrim. We followed a call to a church looking for an infusion of youth.

The delight became dangerously disordered.  It was the end of the world and I was bouncing off the walls. A light fixture fell and I was convinced it was a sign from God.

The next day, I found myself in the seclusion room of a psychiatric hospital.

That’s great, it starts with an earthquake
Birds and snakes, an aeroplane, and Lenny Bruce is not afraid

Eye of a hurricane, listen to yourself churn
World serves its own needs, don’t misserve your own needs
Feed it up a knock, speed, grunt, no, strength
The ladder starts to clatter with a fear of height, down, height
Wire in a fire, represent the seven games
And a government for hire and a combat site
Left her, wasn’t coming in a hurry with the Furies breathing down your neck

Team by team, reporters baffled, trumped, tethered, cropped
Look at that low plane, fine, then
Uh-oh, overflow, population, common group
But it’ll do, save yourself, serve yourself
World serves its own needs, listen to your heart bleed
Tell me with the Rapture and the reverent in the right, right
You vitriolic, patriotic, slam fight, bright light
Feeling pretty psyched

It’s the end of the world as we know it
It’s the end of the world as we know it
It’s the end of the world as we know it, and I feel fine

Six o’clock, TV hour, don’t get caught in foreign tower
Slash and burn, return, listen to yourself churn
Lock him in uniform, book burning, bloodletting
Every motive escalate, automotive incinerate
Light a candle, light a motive, step down, step down
Watch your heel crush, crush, uh-oh
This means no fear, cavalier, renegade and steering clear
A tournament, a tournament, a tournament of lies
Offer me solutions, offer me alternatives, and I decline

It’s the end of the world as we know it (I had some time alone)
It’s the end of the world as we know it (I had some time alone)
It’s the end of the world as we know it, and I feel fine (It’s time I had some time alone)
I feel fine (I feel fine)

It’s the end of the world as we know it (It’s time I had some time alone)
It’s the end of the world as we know it (It’s time I had some time alone)
It’s the end of the world as we know it, and I feel fine (It’s time I had some time alone)

The other night I dreamt a nice continental drift divide
Mountains sit in a line, Leonard Bernstein
Leonid Brezhnev, Lenny Bruce, and Lester Bangs
Birthday party, cheesecake, jellybean, boom
You symbiotic, patriotic, slam but neck, right? Right

It’s the end of the world as we know it (It’s time I had some time alone)
It’s the end of the world as we know it (It’s time I had some time alone)
It’s the end of the world as we know it, and I feel fine (It’s time I had some time alone)

It’s the end of the world as we know it
It’s the end of the world as we know it
It’s the end of the world as we know it, and I feel fine (It’s time I had some time alone)

It’s the end of the world as we know it (It’s time I had some time alone)
It’s the end of the world as we know it (It’s time I had some time alone)
It’s the end of the world as we know it, and I feel fine (It’s time I had some time alone)

It’s the end of the world as we know it (It’s time I had some time alone)
It’s the end of the world as we know it (It’s time I had some time alone)
It’s the end of the world as we know it, and I feel fine (It’s time I had some time alone)

(It’s time I had some time alone)

(“It’s the End of the World As We Know It (and I feel fine)” is the ninth song on my autobiographical Spotify playlist Delight in Disorder)

“My Back Pages” by Bob Dylan in “Delight in Disorder (the soundtrack)”

The song I’ve chosen to represent my childhood in Delight in Disorder (the soundtrack) is Bob Dylan’s “My Back Pages.” Dylan masterfully captures in vivid imagery a life mixed with youthful vigor and age-old concerns.

I grew up fast and hard, living in small-town innocence yet being exposed to discord, drunkenness, divorce. Sports and studies took my mind away and I prayed my body would some day follow.  Teachers taught me idealism even as one stuck his hand down my pants. Preachers hailed fire and brimstone from pulpits to pews filled by grandparents who embodied both wrath and mercy tasting like sour Juicy Fruit gum.

Disorder disguised delight yet light endured like the north star on night.

Crimson flames tied through my ears
Rollin’ high and mighty traps
Pounced with fire on flaming roads
Using ideas as my maps
“We’ll meet on edges, soon,” said I
Proud ’neath heated brow
Ah, but I was so much older then
I’m younger than that now

Half-wracked prejudice leaped forth
“Rip down all hate,” I screamed
Lies that life is black and white
Spoke from my skull. I dreamed
Romantic facts of musketeers
Foundationed deep, somehow
Ah, but I was so much older then
I’m younger than that now

Girls’ faces formed the forward path
From phony jealousy
To memorizing politics
Of ancient history
Flung down by corpse evangelists
Unthought of, though, somehow
Ah, but I was so much older then
I’m younger than that now

A self-ordained professor’s tongue
Too serious to fool
Spouted out that liberty
Is just equality in school
“Equality,” I spoke the word
As if a wedding vow
Ah, but I was so much older then
I’m younger than that now

In a soldier’s stance, I aimed my hand
At the mongrel dogs who teach
Fearing not that I’d become my enemy
In the instant that I preach
My pathway led by confusion boats
Mutiny from stern to bow
Ah, but I was so much older then
I’m younger than that now

Yes, my guard stood hard when abstract threats
Too noble to neglect
Deceived me into thinking
I had something to protect
Good and bad, I define these terms
Quite clear, no doubt, somehow
Ah, but I was so much older then
I’m younger than that now

(lyrics to “My Back Pages” Copyright © 1964 by Warner Bros. Inc.; renewed 1992 by Special Rider Music)

Delight in the Works of the Lord

Praise the LORD!

I will give thanks to the LORD with my whole heart,

in the company of the upright, in the congregation.

Great are the works of the LORD,

studied by all who delight in them. (Psalm 111:1-2)

Praise is personal, but it is best expressed publicly. When people say. “Faith should be kept private,” I was to yell out, “How can I keep from singing?” If I hear a great song, see a marvelous movie, read a gripping novel, or encounter a compelling work of art, my gut reaction is to share the experience with others. How can I keep from praising?

Today I went to an extended family gathering. Not being a social butterfly, I typically observe others and wait to speak until I’m spoken to. I noticed the flow of conversation was about physical ailments – everything from excessive flatulence to herniated  discs to heart conditions.

In time, I was asked what I did. I talked about my memoir and mission to share hope with folks like me who have a mental illness as well as foster compassion within the faith community.

One woman seemed genuinely interested. (I was later told her ex-husband had bipolar disorder and had committed suicide.) She tried to engage others in a conversation about faith and mental illness but everyone uncomfortably looked down at their food. Very soon someone changed the subject to something more socially acceptable. Hemorrhoids, I think.

Mental disorders like mine can be intensely uncomfortable, even agonizingly painful at times, but there is delight to be found in the midst of the disorder. This delight flows from the Spirit of the Lord, who deeply desires that we share our delight “in the company of the upright, in the congregation.”

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Higher Education (from Delight in Disorder)

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College was a time for experiments.

Mixing songs with sex, ideas with drugs.

The God I had come to know went up in smoke.

I replaced the living Word with words from lives

That thirsted for truths to absorb the Truth

And hungered for rights without Righteousness.

 

I wrote a book my senior year called,

Life (in obvious places)

Filled with family stories and ones I’d conceived.

At the end, a coquettish Claudia Matson asks the narrator –

“Why don’t you write any love stories?”

“I don’t know any,” he replies.

 

I took a job at a plastics factory.

And started going to a country church.

Grammar Presbyterian.

Filled with farmers and grandmothers

Who made room for me in my stained Salvation Army clothes.

Smelling of smoke, looking for a God of substance.

 

Easter Sunday, on my way to church.

I saw a grey-haired woman in a tattered coat wandering.

I pulled over and tried to help.

She didn’t know where she was and I didn’t know where to take her.

We were both lost.

 

I drove her to a downtown church.

Dressed in his Easter best, a usher gave her a donut and some coffee.

He sat with her and helped her find her way home.

I left the church in tears.

Finding strength to be weak in a community of grace.

 

I went to seminary to serve God with my mind,

Hoping my body and soul would follow.

In class we looked at the language of Scripture

And discussed how not to talk about God.

 

In my pastoral work, I found God…

… in the joy of boy who would never speak.

… in the songs of prisoners longing for freedom.

… in the tears of a man praying beside his dying wife’s bed.

 

I say I found God, but really God found me, and I didn’t run away.

 

I met Alice in the office of a friend.

She was arguing with the phone company about a deposit.

She won.

I said to myself, “I want her on my side.”

Within 6 months, we were engaged.

 

We moved to a 3-room row house in South St. Louis.

The heat was unbearable,

Steam rising from the asphalt.

We passionately loved and more passionately fought.

From this conjugal clash, a child was conceived.

 

We moved to the countryside,

And I became a pastor,

A shepherd of a frozen flock.

I preached sermons on Sunday,

And took out the trash on Tuesdays.

 

Sarah was born in early Spring.

There was a chill in the air and ice on the roads,

But we barely noticed.

We brought her home to balloons and signs

A Noah’s Ark nursery.

We made her first week a music video

with Sandy Patty singing –

You are a masterpiece
A new creation He has formed
And you’re as soft  and fresh as a snowy winter morn.
And I’m so glad that God has given you to me

After a week, I was spent (or so I thought).

I retreated to my office and didn’t come out

Even when I came home.

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