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John The Left

For my friend John. He’ll never read this, but he’s a true brother.  Brotherhood is rare.

“Bartender please, fill my glass for me with the wine they gave Jesus that set him free….”
Dave Matthews

If the two of you were blood brothers, if you shared the same left-handed scars and if he, the elder, needed a friend instead of a bullet, would you go?

Objection to the compound question?

His closest friends, the ones who walked daily with him, didn’t show up. And for the life of me I want to forgive them. Really. I do. But he found himself in a game of Russian Roulette where he was the only one sitting at the table. He won, thankfully.

There are familiar people, kindred spirits. There are people who recognize that distracted love is no love at all. But how do those souls find each other when distraction steals hope? What if they don’t?

When the elder was unspooling into that pile of scarlet thread on the floor, I wasn’t sure who I would call. The people that we all trust (the ones with proper church titles), they didn’t answer their phones that night. So I made that drive. I am relation but I am not kindred. I am unconditional love but I am not understanding (I desperately wish that I were). I relied upon people I called brothers. They folded their arms and continued their sleeping.

We are all so tired.

But you were an option, friend. If only I had known. You were once that same tangled mass. Once you took the ammunition from your necklace, loaded your gun with finality. You stopped eating hoping that you could starve yourself into eternity. You thought the death of your son would lead to your own. The perfect excuse. But there was an intervention from a fellow left-hander—salvation at the hands of one who sticks closer than a brother!

So when I saw you at the meeting-house, when I told you the story that almost ended in tragedy, you put your hand on my shoulder. You said that demons don’t die easily, but they do die. You said I could always call if he goes searching for the bottom again. You assured me that love is often metaphorically indicated as ocean breakers for a reason. You reminded me that frailty can be fortified with life-giving words.

All joy broke loose in the hallway when you said, “call me anytime.” I was unknowing of my need until you confronted it. And the weight of the struggles of my forefathers was lifted by a love more weighty. Praise be to the God of our fathers Abraham, Isaac, Peter, and John!

I miss you, friend. You personify the life everlasting.

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A Kind of Last Supper

“It took me a lot of time and hard work,” he said pausing, head rhythmically nodding. “But I did. I put to death my ego and my shadows.” He was speaking something about me, something he knew I needed. This over the clink of forks, over the top of salt rimmed glasses and fried plantains.

For some it’s a gift. Greg creates this unexpected intimacy from whole-cloth, from table-cloth. I found it in his story, not the long life one that bleeds for hours. Not the one I do not yet know. Just the three-minute scratch. The good word that speaks of himself, recognizes himself in you, recognizes you in himself.

“One day life, this skin, is going to do to me what it was designed to do. It is going to be scourged, sanctified” he said. “And when it does
I’m going to need people. You can call it community, tribe, who cares. But I know that life doesn’t ask you before taking back what it gave you. It doesn’t ask before giving you something new. Life does what is willed and if I’m going to make it, I need people. I need God in you.”

It was all ordained, predestined, whatever, this night we all shared. In the middle of this God-centered room we orbited, some of us slowly and steadily like he. Others a bit wobbly, almost off-kilter, maybe like I was. We were fixed upon alternating awkward axes of radiant joy, reverent silence, and eternal gratitude. But in all, we were part of a grand experiment to live life well together.

We sat around the table on the Mesa and ate the last supper. A couple of the girls moved to the side for a bit and shared recent wounds, the living Word bandaging the raw areas. By the end of the night our wives were healing, laughing, unworried. You could see them considering the lilies of the field, how they sleep in the fall, but return in the spring.

Arkansas lilies are magnificent in the spring.

When supper was over, or when the waitress kicked us out, anyway, we left with implicit promises–to bear God’s image one to another, to bear one another up, to bear crosses and joys, and to be filled with the hope of Christ.

Peace be with you all.

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A Plumber’s Feast

On Christmas Eve, right before the family’s grand feast, the pipes broke. It was unfortunate, really, the geyser rising then falling from under the commode. The youngest of the cousins found the expanding pool before the rest of us and squirted soap on the wet tile. It was her raucous singing of “Jesus’ love is a bubblin’ over” that led to the discovery of the problem and the eventual phone call to the plumber.

“A Christmas Eve plumber’s rate,” Dad said, “is going to be painful.” He was prone to prophecy on liturgical holidays.

Anna was pulled from the rising tide of suds that were expanding like some nightmarish Mr. Bubble commercial. Adults rushed to contain the spill by a seawall of monogrammed towels and chamois from the back of uncle Ted’s BMW. The plumber arrived and we all breathed a collective sigh of relief. He could work a Christmas miracle; we were sure of it.

Dad was a good man, really. Back in those days doctors carried pagers but he had turned his off for Christmas Eve dinner. We retired to the table to feast—turkey and ham, mashed potatoes and gravy, creamy green bean sludge with crispy fried onions, wine for the adults, and sparkling cider for the children. We prayed thankfully; ate fully. Dad read the manger story. Aunt Judy cried quietly, saddened that the God-baby was born to die.

After about an hour the plumber walked into the dining room, interrupting Aunt Judy’s snowballing lecture on justification. The Presbyterian in the family of Catholics, Aunt Judy was prone to theological ramblings on protestant holidays. “I capped the pipe,” he said, “but the fixin will have to wait until after the holidays.” Dad asked him to sit and eat but he declined. Mom gave him coconut pie on a paper plate and a Styrofoam cup of coffee.

As they walked to the door Dad offered a back-slapping “Merry Christmas, Joe.” Joe offered a slip of paper in return, an invoice of Christmas cheer. After unfolding it, the old man gasped and exclaimed “that’s more than I charge for two hours of surgery!” Joe turned to my father slowly, solemnly.

“Well doc, you had the same career opportunities I had,” he offered as if contemplating the priceless gifts of the magi.  “Merry Christmas, Doc.”

Within earshot, Uncle Ted recognized the fulfillment of prophecy and his booming laughter all but blew out the candles on the Advent wreath.

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To Amber

This is a confession.

On my twenty-first birthday, that night when I walked into your dorm, that night you walked down the stairs like a holy jean wearing Scarlett O’Hare, I wanted to unwrap you.

We’re among friends here, right?

We walked to the coffee shop off campus, the one with viennas and turtle cheesecake.  You took your napkin, unfolding it delicately. With the ballpoint pen that served as your Psalm marker you wrote, “Am I a Baptist?” a secret whispered on a napkin in a den of disbelief.  A secret translated, “I could love you.”  You asked if we could pray.

You unwrapped me first.

In the end, you are not Baptist and that’s probably best.  You are less holy jeans and pixie haircuts, although both have made comebacks.  You are certainly a southern accent, but not a Scarlett one. 

Eleven years in.  I want to keep unwrapping. I want to memorize you.

Happy Aniversary.

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The Written

Hosea 6:3 

So let us know, let us press on to know the Lord. 

His going forth is as certain as the dawn.

And He will come to us like the rain,

like the spring rain watering the earth.

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