Stones… Again

This is a re-post of one of my favorites…

A beautiful young woman walked the cobblestone street which traversed a steep incline through stately homes within view of both Herrod’s palace and the Temple. Beside her strode a stately Roman Centurion, both young and handsome, with a commanding saunter which showed confidence derived from youth and station. As the couple approached a narrow alleyway, she quickly surveyed the surrounding area, grabbed the man’s hand, and they furtively slid from direct view from anyone travelling the wider avenue. Moving quickly, the two approached a gate and stepped through. Closing the gate behind them rapidly, they emerged into a lush courtyard. Stepping underneath a vine-covered archway to conceal their actions from the view of wealthy gossips, the woman turned quickly to face the Roman and gave a deep, guttural laugh. The soldier looked down and flashed a slow smile, grabbing the woman around the waist. The woman slid her hand down to his leg and began searching for an entrance to his thigh through the armor covering his tunic.

Laughing, the soldier teased, “That armor is meant to ward off a warrior’s blade. Your nails will never find their mark.”

“Then I suppose we will have to remove it…” the woman taunted.

Raising her face towards his helmeted head, she brushed her lips slightly against his and then broke away from his embrace, running towards the back entrance of the palatial home.

“She is certainly brazen,” thought the soldier, “especially for a married woman.” Feeling just a bit leery, he asked, “Aren’t you afraid the servants will see us? I’m sure your husband would treat a slave kindly who protected him from a whoring wife.”

Stopping at the door she answered, “They are afraid. They know Romans know how to protect their conquests. Besides, my husband is probably right now in the arms of two women in Caesar’s household. It would certainly take two women to get their arms around him. They can have the spatter of his sweat and the flap of his belly as he pounds away on them. I would rather know the firmness of Caesar’s warrior… Come to me, Corin.”

Corin hesitated again for just a moment. Getting caught in an affair with this woman could destroy his bright career. Yosef, this woman’s husband, was a rich Jewish merchant who was the primary outfitter for the Roman legions occupying Palestine. Yosef even had ties to Egyptian traders, which allowed him to manage all supplies coming into the southeastern Mediterranean coast. By so doing, Rome could be spared using sailors and troops from the inane process of hauling their own bread. The Legions could be used for more strategic action both local and empire-wide. Using a local merchant also poured Roman gold into the local economy, helping to pacify leading citizens who might otherwise be intent on revolution and nobody made any money during revolution. So Caesar protected Yosef’s interests and kept a close tie with him, bringing him to Rome frequently and making any business trips he might need to make as comfortable and secure as possible. If Caesar found out that one of his officers disrupted the happy home of his prized merchant, that officer would become a eunuch carrying the armor of the most forward unit commander in the Legion. While Corin wasn’t afraid of battle, he was a veteran of many, he wouldn’t survive the humiliation. So if he deemed this woman worth the risk….

Ah, but that was part of the attraction. That adrenaline rush a man got when everything was on the line.

For her part, Shayna, Yosef’s wife, knew she wanted this man. She knew what she wanted was wrong. The Pharisees taught that she could be stoned for just this type of relationship. Her father would probably be the first to pick up a stone if she were caught. He had been the one to get her into this marriage anyway. Well…. Her father had accepted Yosef’s generous bridal offer. Yosef noticed her at the market while she ran errands for her mother and determined the beautiful girl would be his. Shayna’s father believed accepting the offer made sense for both Shayna and the rest of his family. Shayna would be taken care of in the house of such a wealthy man and his other children would have other options because of Yosef’s generosity. The fact that Yosef was 30 years older than Shayna didn’t matter. In fact, it was very common.

However, to Shayna, her marriage and life had no meaning. She felt nothing but contempt for her husband and her life was a bore. She was angry, and hated it that she was really nothing more than her body. In her culture, women were only useful for their bodies: working in the home, bearing the children, meeting the sexual desires of the husbands… So when Shayna saw this strong, tall Roman standing at her doorway as Yosef’s dinner guest one night, she decided she wanted him. Without knowing it, she was expressing her anger for the lack of choices allowed her, by choosing an action that symbolically spat in the face of Yosef, her father, the Pharisees… even God! How could God care and allow her to be treated like a cow, or donkey, or dove… sold from one owner to another. She wasn’t a slave, and she was going to enjoy her body by giving it to someone of her choice. It was most certainly an act of angry rebellion.

As Corin stood motionless beneath the heavy stone archway, Shayna slid the covering off her head and slowly removed her tunica until her body could be seen through the thin garment underneath. Slowly, Corin walked towards the doorway, removed his helmet with one hand and slid his other around her waist, lowering his mouth to her upraised lips and kissed her deeply. Things progressed quickly now. Shayna led Corin towards her bedroom all the while helping him shrug out of his armor, scattering the pieces in a line from the back door to the bedroom.

While deeply engrossed in their passion, neither Shayna nor Corin heard the scraping of boots against the rock wall just outside the window of the bedroom. Nor did they see the eyes peering through watching their writhing bodies. Dropping to the ground, the man turned to a large group of religious leaders, “They are in the act. Let’s go.”

A group of about 20 men strode resolutely to the stately front door of the home, lifted a wooden battering ram and smashed the door open. Dropping the ram just inside the door, the men ran towards the bedroom, scrambled through the cloth covering the entrance and were just in time to see Corin sprint to his dagger lying across the room. Shayna reached for a covering although there were none on the bed or in plain view.

The eldest man of the 20, and the one obviously in charge, shouted, “There’s no need for violence, Centurion. We aren’t here for you…” To another of his group, the eldest commanded, “Stay here with him and explain to him our offer, Joshua…”

Shayna rushed towards a corner of the room hoping to roll her body into it so as not to reveal her intimacies to the mob, but before she could reach it, four rough hands grabbed her. Lifting her up slightly off the floor, they half-carried, half-dragged her across the stone floor of the bedroom. Shayna screamed and tried to look towards Corin, pleading for help, but he was in an intense conversation with another leader of the mob. Continuing to rush out of the house, the group stopped outside the smashed front door of the house for a moment. The two men holding a naked Shayna thrust her onto the ground in the middle of the mob. She was surrounded by a sea of angry, leering faces staring down at her and obviously enjoying her naked terror. Their leader reached into a pile of rocks next to a piece of the splintered door and picked up a stone about the size of Shayna’s head.

“We are taking you to the carpenter, adulteress. We will kill three birds with many stones… We are going to expose the Nazarene’s lies once and for all, give you what your adultery deserves, and take from that traitor, Yosef, his prized possession. Let’s go. The carpenter is in the Temple courtyard spreading his insanity.”

The rough hands once again snatched Shayna from the ground and shoved her ahead of the mob with such force that she fell at the bottom of the steps headed up towards the Temple mount. The group moved quickly, usually carrying Shayna with hands pinching and prodding her as she struggled to protect herself. As they progressed up the hill, their number grew as people followed to watch the hideous show.

Shayna could hardly think while the mob pressed forward. She was in shock. All she could really make out were the stones in the hands of her captives.

Stones…

She had always loved stones as a child…

Stones flying from the sling of David and crashing into the giant.

Stones taken from the dry river bed and then piled on the shore of the promised land after Jehovah had made the way for Joshua and Israel’s children after 40 years wandering in the desert.

Stones stained with blood from a ram found in a thicket after Jehovah stayed the hand of Abraham from taking the life of his son, Isaac.

Stones…

she had always liked stones….

The noise and edge of the mob reached the Temple courtyard before Shayna did. The carpenter was seated among a crowd of people teaching them about “His Father.” Hearing the commotion, The Teacher slowly stood and watched the faces of the mob as they approached. Once the leaders of the mob stepped into the courtyard, they held Shayna by the arms and shoved her along in front of them, causing her to skin her feet and trip and fall, scraping the side of her leg and elbow upon which she landed. Grabbing her hair with one hand and the scraped elbow with the other, the leader stood her up and forced her to stand fully erect with her hands to her sides within a few yards of the Teacher.

“Teacher,” the leader loudly addressed the crowd, more so than the Teacher,“ this woman was caught in the act of adultery. In the Law, Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?”

As the leader spoke, the Teacher looked into the faces of the mob, but never looked at Shayna as she stood with tears streaming down her face, chin quivering, and eyes staring straight ahead. Finally, the Teacher knelt down and began to write in the sand. The act drew the attention directly to the Teacher. People began to press in, stones in hand, trying to see what was being written in the sand. With each separate drawing, a set of eyes would widen in surprise, as if a deep personal secret were being revealed. The eyes would then begin to glaze over, as if once again trying to hide from the truth of their own actions. All-the-while, holding stubbornly to the stones at their sides.

The leader finally broke the trance the mob seemed to be in and began to fire religious questions at the Teacher. Finally, the Teacher slowly rose and once again looked into the eyes of each member of the mob, and said, “If any one of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone at her.” And again, he stooped down and continued to write in the dust.

The crowd quieted…

One by one, stones began to fall…

Feet scuffed through the dust as people left…

Finally…

Stones on the ground…

Silence…

The Teacher reaches out and takes up a stone…

Looks at the stone and stands…

Then looks straight into Shayna’s eyes…

“Woman, where are they?” He smiles with his eyes… “Has no one condemned you?”

“No one, sir,” Shayna softly says.

The Teacher reaches out one hand, takes Shayna’s hand, places the stone into her palm, and closes her fingers around it with his other hand.

“Then neither do I condemn you,” he slightly smiles and then says, “Go now and leave your life of sin.”

Shayna turns and his hands drop her hand as she begins to walk away. Feeling the weight in her hand, she raises it to view the stone, her stone. And she remembers,

“I always liked stones…”

(An expanded version of John 8:1-11)

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Indulgent Intercessions…Part 18

“Hank…now you KNOW watchin’ that phone isn’t gonna make it ring.” Molly Dresden said in a
tender voice.

“Ok…you caught me.” Hank said sheepishly. Turning to face her, Hank said, “Why doesn’t he call, Molly?”

Sighing heavily and putting aside the book she had been reading, Mary got up from the couch and walked across the living room to where Hank was sitting in his overstuffed chair. Turning, she sat gently into Hank’s lap and put her legs across the arm of the chair. Taking his head into her hands, she pulled it against her chest in a loving hug. “I know, Baby, I know…” She said, and then taking his face into her hands and tilting it up so she could stare into his eyes, she continued, “Do you know how much it makes me love you to see how you love your son?” Kissing him on the forehead, she finished, “You’re an incredible father, Hank Dresden!”

Grabbing Molly by the waist, Hank gave her a deep kiss and then replied, “Thank you, Darlin’…now
get back to your book.” Then placing one arm under her knees and the other around her waist, Hank scooted forward and stood up while holding Molly. Molly screamed playfully and said, “Careful old man…you’ll hurt your back!”

Hank walked over to the couch and dropped her onto it. “That’s for calling me OLD!” He
said, chuckling.

Molly laughed and watched as Hank turned, and pushed through the screen door, which closed with a “thwack”.

Hank stood on the front porch, leaned against one of the pillars of the porch, and looked down the dirt lane which allowed access to his farm. As he stood listening to the early evening sounds of the birds settling in to the trees while the rays of the setting sun left a colorful hue of red and orange in the eastern sky, Hank thought about how much he loved this part of the day. The evening chores were over, dinner was over, and the dishes were in the dish washer. Molly was curled up with her book, which was one of the personal luxuries she carved out time for in a typically full day of life on the farm. So Hank often came outside, in the summer months at least, to think and pray. Every evening since Chris and Mia left, Hank found his gaze constantly returning to that dirt lane. He began the habit of saying an inaudible, short prayer for both of them whenever he looked down the lane. Tonight was no different. Hank thought of when Mia had returned home. He first found out about it when he overheard a conversation in the café in town one afternoon, when he and Molly had stopped in for lunch while making a trip to the local hardware store. Two of the waitresses, who had attended high school with Mia, had been standing at the end of the counter gossiping and giving a biting commentary about why Mia had returned, but not Chris. Hank and Molly’s waitress had just filled Hank’s coffee cup for the second time when they all heard the comment, and their eyes briefly met. The girl’s eyes quickly broke from his and darted toward her co-workers, who were too engrossed to notice Hank and Molly’s presence.

After a particularly vicious comment by one of the girls, the waitress near Hank and Molly turned red and said, “I’m real sorry Mr. and Mrs. Dresden, we are all just really worried about Mia. Sometimes…”

Molly interrupted the girl in mid-sentence, “That’s ok…um…Michelle,” …reading the girl’s name tag…”I’m sure they are just trying to protect Mia by talking about her behind her back…”

Michelle got redder still. “Uh, yeah… I’m sure that’s it…” she had replied with embarrassment.

Hank had then jumped in, “Do you know when Mia got back in town, and where she is staying?” He asked, his face turning red at the need to ask the question.

“Well, she got back in town yesterday, and is with her parents.” Michelle had responded.

Hank and Molly then hurriedly paid the ticket and left.

As he stood on the porch, looking down the lane, he thought about the meeting with Mia and her parents right after the meal in the cafe in town. The conversation with Mia was very awkward. Hank and Molly had asked Mia to be honest with them, and she was. As Mia related the story, tears began to creep down Molly’s face and Hank felt a growing knot in his stomach. Finally, after Mia had finished, Hank said, “I’m sorry, Mia,” in a barely audible voice choked with the knot which had worked its way upwards from his stomach to his throat.

That had been several months ago, and Hank still choked up as he thought about it. In the following months, the new baby had been born: Hope Margaret (Maggie) Dresden. She was a joy to both sets of grandparents as well as her mother, and Mia had no problem finding a babysitter with such a collage of extended family vying for the privelege. Mia was still home with the baby, but planned on getting a job eventually so she could move out on her own. Several members of their little church had offered her a job, including Father Baaken, who said that his memory and his wife required that he hire a secretary. Mia was leaning toward the latter offer.

As the sun continued to sink lower in the East, Hank watched it and eventually noticed the unmistakable, distant sound of a large truck approaching on the main road. Lifting his coffee cup to his lips, he said aloud to himself, “That’s weird… it’s late for a delivery. He must have too heavy a load and is tryin’ to bypass the scales.” This was a fairly common practice when a trucker had just refueled, and knew that the weight of his fuel plus his load would cost him a fine at the weigh station on the main highway because he was over the legal weight. He watched for the tell-tale dust the truck would stir up when it passed where the blacktop ended and the road became a dirt road a mile-and-a-half to the south of his spread. Eventually, Hank heard the engine begin to slow as the truck approached and then crossed onto the dirt portion of the road, and he saw the dust immediately kick up.

“Man,” Hank said aloud as he saw the dust begin to billow, “we could sure use some rain, Lord.” The prayer came unbidden, as if a comment to a close friend standing near.

As he continued to watch the billowing dust and listen to the sound of the engine, he noticed that the engine continued to slow, rather than remain constant on the dirt road. In fact, it sounded as if the truck were slowing down even further. “Wonder if he got a flat…” Hank said with a slight frown on his face. Taking another drink of his coffee, the frown deepened into a scowl as he suddenly realised his coffee was cold. He spat out the mouthful, and then dumped his cup into the bushes next to the steps. As he did so, a young cotton-tail raced from under the bush, dodging this way and that, in an attempt to escape an imagined pursuer. Hank immediately laughed. “I don’t blame ya’. I hate cold coffee, too!” He said to the retreating rabbit.

Suddenly, a movement at the end of the lane captured Hank’s attention, and he turned to see a large truck stopped on the main road, just in front of the entrance to the lane. The passenger side door opened, and a duffle bag was dropped to the ground just before a familiar figure began to slowly emerge from the open door. Hank heard a voice say something into the cab, but he couldn’t hear the message due to the distance from where he stood. Hank straightened to a standing position at the top of the stairs. He watched the figure climb down from the cab of the truck, reach down and pick up the duffle bag, and then stop for a couple moments as the truck began to pick up speed and cover him with dust.

“Chris?” Hank said quietly at first. “Dear God, let it be…”

Hank absent-mindedly pushed his coffee cup in the direction of the porch railing, but let go of the handle while the cup was half-way on the top railing, and the cup immediately toppled onto the concrete steps and shattered at his feet. Ignoring the shards of pottery at his feet, Hank jumped off the porch in one bound, swinging his arms wildly… “YES!” He screamed while in mid-air. As soon as his feet touched the ground, Hank spun around in his best touchdown dance with knees pumping, and arms thrust straight up in the air, screaming, “YES! YES! MY SON!” Taking off at a dead sprint, Hank let out a long, loud, “Wah-hooooooo….” as he sprinted down the dusty lane.

At the other end of the lane, Chris stopped walking as he saw his father’s joyful dance and retreated a couple of steps when he saw him sprinting towards Chris’s position. The color drained from Chris’s face in direct proportion to the closing distance between his sprinting father and himself. He prepared himself for what he thought would be his father’s anger at his return, and the poverty of his situation. Rather than resume his walk towards home, Chris stood stone still, feeling smaller and smaller until he wished he could disappear into the ditch alongside the lane. He spoke in whispered tones to himself the words of regret and remorse he had rehearsed in his mind and heart throughout the long return home. Words which acknowledged how his actions had disrespected his father and mother, the family name, Mia and their child, and even himself. Words which spoke of his understanding that he had forfeited his place as son, but begged for a place as employee. He closed his eyes as he whispered to himself, over and over, and he could hear the heavy footsteps of his father getting louder and louder and louder….

Hank exploded into Chris in a perfect form tackle, lifting him up off the ground completely, lost his balance, and fell; twisting as they fell, so his own shoulder took the full force of the fall. When they both hit the ground, Hank continued to roll over and over again with his son grasped tightly in his arms; his breaths coming in deep, rasping sobs which emanated from a well-spring of joy in his heart.

The two of them ended up in the middle of the road with Hank laying on top of Chris. Looking down at the face of his son, Hank noticed Chris’s eyes closed tightly, and he began to laugh heartily at the sight. When he heard his father’s laughter, Chris opened his eyes to see his father’s eyes squinting with mirth, the corners of his mouth spread wide in an inviting smile, and tears flowing from his eyes, making trails in the dust of the road which covered his face.

“It is SO good to see you, Chris!” Hank said in a voice, choked with emotion.

Hank placed his hands on the ground, rolled off his son, and stood up; towering over his son. In response, Chris turned to the side, and worked his way onto his knees, with hands to his side, and facing his father. Looking down at the dusty road, Chris began to speak…”I am no longer worthy of being called your son. I…I… really need a job… could I work around the farm, for my room and board?”

Hank grabbed his son by the arms and raised him to a standing position. Looking directly into his eyes, Hank said, “Welcome home, Son…” He then put his hands on either side of his head, kissed him on the forehead, and then on each cheek. As he kissed his son, he could taste the grit of the dust from the road and at the taste, Hank immediatly turned his head upwards and began to laugh while pulling his son close in a strong, tight hug.

Releasing his hug, Hank turned to pick up the duffle bag which had been thrown by Hank’s tackle about ten yards away. As he threw the duffle bag over one shoulder, he put his free arm around the shoulders of Chris. “Let’s git some dinner! Are ya hungry?” Hank said as they turned towards the house and began the short walk to the house, and to Molly, who was standing on the porch with her own welcome to a lost son.

As they walked the lane, Chris was almost certain he heard the church bell sounding in the distance.

“It’s good to be home.” Chris said quietly.

“It’s great to have you home….. I didn’t hurt ya, did I?” Hank said, turning his head towards his son.

“I’m good…,” Chris responded. “Actually… I’m great!”

Indulgent Intercessions… Part 6

“I’m not sure I should be drinking this…” Mia said when Chris handed her the flute of champagne. “Alcohol is not good for a baby!”

“Um… OK…” Chris responded hesitantly, “Give it to me. I’ll take care of it!”

Chris chugged his glass, laid the empty glass on the floor, and then did the same with Mia’s glass. He had already had several drinks while on the airplane, and was just at a delectable buzz. Reaching for the bottle of champagne, he refilled his glass.

“Y-y-ya might want to go easy on that,” Mia cautioned. “Your going to miss the skyline. Besides, this is our wedding night… I’d rather not spend it alone after you pass out.”

“I can handle it!” Chris said confidently. “I won’t leave you alone anymore!”

However, as they took a short tour of the city en route to the hotel, Chris continued to fill and empty his glass. Once they arrived at the hotel, and the driver opened the door, Chris grabbed the handles next to the door of the limo, and started to pull himself out, rather than allow Mia to exit first. When he put one leg onto the concrete and tried to let his weight down on it, the leg turned to jello and he stumbled forward, losing his balance. The drive, who was still holding the door, had to catch Chris and steady him. Every time he tried to turn loose of Chris, Chris’s body would begin to lean towards  one side or the other, and the driver had to reposition him. It was like a scene from a Laurel and Hardy movie: lean…steady…lean…steady. Finally, the driver physically moved Chris against the rear fender of the car, placed his elbow and forearm into Chris’s chest, and gallantly took Mia’s hand with his free hand. They closed the car door, and Mia pinned Chris against the car while a doorman from the hotel brought a cart for their luggage which the driver unloaded from the trunk. After the bags were loaded, Mia had the doorman to bring the cart near Chris, and they helped him kneel precariously on the cart while they wheeled the cart into the lobby with the doorman on one side of the cart,  the driver on the other, and Mia turning a deepening shade of red from embarrassment.

As the driver prepared to leave, Mia opened her purse in an attempt to pay him, but he stopped her in mid-reach.

“It’s all been taken care of, Miss.”  Looking at Chris hanging on to the end of the cart, the driver turned to Mia with a kind expression, and  said, “I hope your stay in the city is a pleasant one.”

Mia met his gaze and said, “I’m sorry for your trouble, and thank you for your kindness.”

“No trouble at all, Miss…” he responded and then smartly turned and left the lobby.

Checking in was surprisingly easy, and Mia walked beside the luggage cart with a new bell staff manning the other side to help support the body of Chris, who was now mumbling incoherently. Once they reached the room, the bellman unlocked the door, and wheeled the cart into a beautiful suite. Mia caught her breath as they entered, taking in the luxurious furnishings and incredible view of the city.

“…and where would you like me to place the…uh…luggage, Miss?” The question from the bellman invaded her response to the surroundings.

“Can we take this cart into the bedroom?” She asked.

“Certainly…” he responded.

All the while, Chris mumbled something about money in his coat pocket. After wheeling the cart into the bedroom, the two of them maneuvered Chris off the cart, tried to stand him up, and when that failed, the bellman grabbed him under the armpits and slid his upper body over the bed where it fell with a flop. Mia grabbed both his feet, spun his legs around til she was at the end of the bed, and let them drop across the wooden foot board.

“Oops…” Mia sarcastically said. “That probably hurt.”

By reflex the bellman said, “It will tomorrow…” Catching himself, he quickly said, “I’m sorry, Miss. I shouldn’t have said that”

“Don’t worry about it. Besides, you’re probably right!” She quipped. As he was preparing to leave, she said, “Just a moment, let me get my purse…”

“Don’t worry about it, Miss. Everything has been taken care of… and I am sorry about your evening.” The bellman said while closing the door.

“Thank you…” Mia replied quietly. Turning towards the huge windows, filled with the beauty of the New York cityscape, she walked towards them and began to cry.

………………………………………………………………………………………………………..

 If ever a night was prophetic of a marriage, it was the wedding night of Chris and Mia. Chris was filled with promises about excitement and fun, but it usually ended up that he was the only one experiencing either.  New Year’s Eve was no exception. After meeting Mercer and one of his many girlfriends for an 11 am brunch the next morning… which Chris couldn’t eat… the four of them took a tour of the city by limousine. Again the car had a well-stocked bar, and everyone except Mia put it to liberal use. What angered Mia the most, however, was when Chris began to flirt with Mercer’s girlfriend. She also became very uncomfortable when Mercer did the same with her. The new life Chris had promised may have been his dream, but it was becoming her nightmare.

They returned to the hotel around 8 pm to “help prepare” for the party which was to begin at 10 that night. The only actual preparation Chris, Mercer, and his girlfriend accomplished, however, was to hang out in Mercer’s huge suite, smoke dope and oil themselves up with vodka. Mia spent the time fending off Mercer’s physical advances, while Chris looked on, snickering, and snuggling with the other girl.

When it was finally time for the party, Mia decided she had enough, and left the three of them in Mercer’s room while she returned to her own room. Upon entering her room, she once again took a place next to the windows. Looking down from her lonely perch, she watched the line of limousines and cabs line up along the street in front of the hotel.  She couldn’t actually see the extravagantly dressed party guests exit each vehicle, but something about the scene, brought a deep homesickness to her. The scene in front of her began to blur, and was replaced by her memory of Father Baaken’s words to her after their counselling session. “Mia, just remember that we are also your family here. This is home. You are ALWAYS welcome at home.”

Was this to be her home now? Was Chris her family? And what of their child? The thought of bringing up a child in this kind of atmosphere brought a shiver across her shoulders.

Looking up in the sky, Mia whispered, “Help me, God!”

It was a short prayer, but a heartfelt one. Pulling herself away from the window, she walked into the bedroom, got ready for bed, and fell asleep.

Indulgent Intercessions…Part 5

“That is a very good question, Chris, and that’s why we would usually take four months to cover it all.”

“But we don’t have four months, Father.” Chris responded. “We don’t have four days! Could we just go over the details of the wedding, and then we will be able to finish running errands?”

“Chris!” Mia exclaimed. ” We still have time. The wedding is really simple, we don’t have that much to do.” Turning towards the pastor, Mia asked, “If you could give us a compact lesson of what it takes to make a marriage work, what would it be, Father?”

Thinking for a moment, Father Baaken quietly said, “Love, listen, give, and forgive…. I might also add to treat yourselves and each other with respect and honor. God does that with each of us, and we are his hands, feet, mouth and ears on this earth, so give to others as we receive from him.”

“So…. is that it? Are we done now?” Chris asked.

“Yes. That’s it.” Father Baaken said quietly. As he spoke, his eyes met Chris’s in a gentle way, filled with sadness for the path he felt the boy was taking. Turning to Mia, he noticed a tear escape from the corner of her eye, only to be swept away quickly by her hand. Mia’s eyes were downcast and she wouldn’t meet his questioning gaze. “So we’re set for Saturday, right?” The pastor asked.

“Yep… Saturday at ten in the morning.” Chris responded. “And we need to be done fairly quickly, ‘cuz we need to catch a plane at six that night, and its a two hour drive to the airport. So… not much time to spare.”

“Ok, then I will see you Friday night at the rehearsal.” Father Baaken concluded.

“Great!” said Chris as he pushed back the chair from the table and began to put his coat on. Mia slowly pressed her back into her chair, and began to ease it away from the table as well, as if a weight were dangling from the seat of her chair. Reaching for her coat, she watched as Chris turned and began walking the aisle to the door into the vestibule.

Pastor Baaken came behind Mia to help her with her coat, and softly said, “Mia, just remember that we are also your family here. This is home. You are ALWAYS welcome at home.”

“Thank you, Father…” she said, her voice quivering.

………………………………………………………………………………………………………

Despite her misgivings, Mia plowed through the rest of the week and the wedding as well. She responded to each task mechanically, as if she felt compelled to finish something she had started, yet without the passion of her heart. Chris, however, sped through everything and everyone seemed to get caught in the wake of his movement; getting sucked along in ever-increasing speed, finally ending with an explosion of fractious nerves and colliding schedules at the security checkpoint of the airport. The fathers of Mia and Chris had driven them to the airport, and as the four of them approached the security check point, after dropping off their luggage at the sidewalk baggage check, a large female security officer stood with a metallic wand in her hand.

“Tickets, please. Take your shoes off and empty your pockets.” The officer said in monotone habit. Chris gave the officer their tickets. “ID’s please…” the drone continued. As she viewed the materials, Chris and Mia removed their shoes and placed everything from their pockets in one plastic container, and placed their carry-on bags on the conveyor to be x-rayed. As Chris and Mia began to move up to the personal metal detector, the two fathers approached the officer.

Hank Desmond and Aaron Christianson began speaking at the same time, “We…have…don’t…tickets…our… children…” their words stumbled over each other.

“One at a time, one at a time…”  irritation began to tweak the officer’s monotone… “I need to see your tickets. gentlemen.”

Looking at each other, Aaron nodded to Hank to speak, “We don’t have tickets, we just want to see them off. We’ll be glad to go through security!”

While their fathers were involved with the officer, Chris and Mia waited in front of the metal detector. One of the officers next to the detector instructed, “Step through one at a time, please…” Same monotone.

“Sir, I’m sorry, but only ticketed passengers beyond this point. I can’t let you pass…” The officer with Hank and Aaron responded.

While Hank and the officer began to discuss why they should or shouldn’t be allowed through the security checkpoint, a line of people began to form behind them.

“C’mon buddy, you’ll see ’em again next Christmas!” an irritated voice barked near the end of the line.

“Sir, I’m SORRY, but there are to be no persons without tickets past this line! Now if you don’t leave this area, I will have you arrested!” The first officer threatened.

“Go, Dad!” Chris said, “We will see you later! C’mon Mia, let’s go. We’re holding up the line.” He started to pull Mia into the metal detector with him and the nearest officer tersely said, “One at a time, please!”

As Chris walked through the detector, Mia turned to the burgeoning chaos swirling about their fathers. “Bye….. Dad….” she began, but her words were lost in the increased volume of people’s complaints about being delayed from their flights. Reluctantly, Mia turned and walked through the metallic portal to her new dimension, tears beginning to form in the corners of her eyes.

Hank Dresden and Aaron Christianson finally detached themselves from the angry line, and searched for their kids to at least shout one final good-bye, but all they could see were the last fragments of Mia’s “going-away-dress”  enveloped by the hallway leading to their gate. Each father felt the whoosh of activity and motion overtake them in an explosion of silence. Unable to even go to a window to watch the plane leave due to the structure of security devices, they turned to leave and walked away in awkward silence; their hands shoved deep into the pockets of rented tux pants.

………………………………………………………………………………………………………

Chris and Mia arrived at LaGuardia Airport in New York at 11:30 the same night as the wedding. After deplaning, they made their way to the baggage claim area to retrieve their luggage. Upon arrival at baggage claim, they noticed a man dressed in a black suit, white shirt, black tie, and sporting a black driver’s hat. The man looked tired, but held a cardboard sign with the name “Dredsen” on it.

Chris approached the man and asked, “Are you looking for us?”

The driver wearily said, “I am if your name is Chris Dredsen…”

“It’s Dresden… The name is Chris Dresden… not Dredsen… and this is my girlfr… I mean wife,” he turned to Mia and chuckled, while she gave him a shy smile, “Mia Dresden.”

“Oh… sorry about that… my eyes get a little blurry when it gets later than ten.” After a beat, the driver asked, “Shall I get your bags, sir?”

“Uh… sure… Where are you parked?” said Chris, nervously.

“We are right by the curb, sir.” The driver pointed through the large windows acting as an exterior wall to the building.

After retrieving their bags, the driver pilfered a cart and followed the two out the door. “This is it, right here.” The driver walked to the side of a stretch limousine, opened the door and waited while the two of them entered. He then closed the door, and began to load the luggage into the trunk.

Chris and Mia looked around at a dark brown leather interior with seats all around the sides, and the back-end of the passenger compartment. Towards the front was a compartment for champagne glasses, and a door, within which Chris found several bottles of a variety of wine and liquor. Taking two of the champagne flutes, a cork screw, and a bottle of champagne; Chris began to open the bottle. Mia sat back in the lush seat and breathed deeply of the odor of the leather interior.

“Baby,” Chris said, “this is now our life!” He opened the bottle with a pop and the cork bounced off the ceiling and landed in Mia’s lap.

“Woo!” Mia jumped, and then laughed.

“Let me pour these drinks and I will be right there to git that!” Chris said with a smile.

After pouring the two glasses, Chris took his place in the seat beside Mia. The driver opened the front door and slid behind the wheel and pulled away from the curb.

“Could we have some music back here, driver?” Chris asked.

“Certainly, sir. The controls are just above your head in the ceiling.” He responded.

“Oh, thank you… and could you roll the window up between us?” Chris continued.

“That control is on the ceiling too, sir. Just behind the skylight.”

“Skylight…” Mia squealed excitedly. “Oh Chris, this will be a beautiful ride!”

“Sir,” the driver’s voice came through an intercom, “Your destination is the Waldorf, is that right?”

“Oh… yes, I almost forgot!” replied an embarrassed Chris. “Uh, driver, how long will the ride be?”

“How long do you need it to be?”

Indulgent Intercessions…

The following is the beginning of a story upon which I am currently working. I will continue to add to it until I am finished.

“Chris…” Silence.

 
“It’s mornin’, Chris… Time to get up.”

 
Chris mumbled an incoherent reply. His bed was loaded with covers, and it was cold in his room. His room was on the north side of the second floor of the old farmhouse, so the heat was taking its sweet time getting there. Chris heard the stairs squeak as his father slowly worked his way up from the kitchen. Chris knew what would happen next, but his bed was just too warm to get out of yet. Besides, he hated to get up so early. Last night had been a late one, he had gotten his pick-up stuck in the snow, and the alcohol his buddies brought made it even more difficult to get out of the snow bank. Plus, living on a dairy farm was another thing he hated. It was filled with hard work, and when he got the chance, he was going to leave and never look back.

 
Chris heard the footsteps of his father approaching his room; each step bringing a groan from the century old hardwood floor. Hank Dresden was a large man. As he neared the doorway of his youngest son, his frame filled the space. Hank’s left hand searched the wall in the darkness until he felt the light switch. The room exploded with light as his heavy hand slid against the switch.

 
“C’mon son… the cows won’t wait long. We’ve gotta get movin’ so we can be finished before you head to school.” Hank spoke evenly, yet not angrily. He remembered how difficult it was for him to wake up at 17, so he didn’t see a need to start the morning on a harsh note. Leaving the light on, Hank retreated down the hallway to the back stairs, which he had just seconds before ascended. As he approached the top of the stairs, he caught a faint whiff of the wonderful fragrance of coffee wafting up from the kitchen at the bottom of the stairs. He heard the refrigerator door close. That would be Molly, his wife of 25 years. At the bottom of the stairs, Hank stepped through the doorway to see Molly opening a white butcher-paper-wrapped slab of bacon. Molly pulled a match from the pink cow match-holder on the counter next to the gas stove. Hank approached Molly from the back, just as she struck the match, turned a knob on the stove to allow a slight hiss of escaping gas, and then lit the burner under a heavy, black iron frying pan. Sliding his hand around her waist, he pulled himself close to her. Kissing the top of her head, he said playfully, “You sure know how to light my fire…”

 
“Not at 4:30 in the morning, I don’t…” she replied groggily.

 
With a soft chuckle, Hank kissed her head again and walked to the door of the mudroom and opened it.

“When ‘Sleeping Beauty’ up there gets up, send him to the barn to help Frank bring in the cattle.” He said over his shoulder.

 
“Ok… Breakfast will be ready when you are through.” Molly responded.

 
As Hank closed the door to the mudroom, he reached for his coveralls hanging from a nail on the wall beside the door. Pulling them on, he could hear a slight creaking from the ceiling above him. “That would be Chris,” he thought as he reached for his mud boots, which stood on the floor just under where the coveralls were previously hung. Hank shook out his boots to rid them of any excess mud which may have fallen off his coveralls into them. He then sat on the bench next to the wash-up sink which stood six feet further from where his boots had been placed. Inserting one foot, which was layered in two pairs of wool socks, he pressed it firmly into the tight rubber boot, and then tucked his Levis into the boot top. He then repeated the ritual with the other boot. Next, Hank tugged the zipper on each leg of the coveralls, leaving them on the outside of each boot. Finally, he reached for his fleece-lined leather gloves and wool, stocking cap. Hank put each on habitually as this was the wintry, morning ritual of every Wisconsin dairyman preparing for work in the sub-zero temperatures of January.

 
Hank had already decided he would take Chris’ pickup to the stacks of Alfalfa bales which were cut, baled, and put up during the past summer. The bales were then transported to the barn, broken open and spread about in the trough in front of the milking machines. The bales were breakfast for his heard of cows, and kept them occupied until the milking was completed. He decided Chris would help Frank, Hank’s eldest son, open the barn, herd the cows in and hook them up to the machines. Hank chose the cold, physical work for himself this morning. He actually liked the physical nature of throwing the bales, and didn’t mind the cold. The physical exertion kept him warm, and he enjoyed the fact that he could still do the work as he approached his 50th year.

 
Hank opened the door exiting the mudroom of the house and stepped through the steam his exhaled breath made in the cold, clean wintry air. Closing the door, he stood on the back porch for a moment, taking in the beauty of the farm in the clear, early morning darkness. As he gingerly traversed the icy stairs to the snow-packed sidewalk which led to the combination garage and shop at the rear of the house; Hank made a mental note to ask Chris to sprinkle the stairs with ice-melt before he left for school. Molly had to go to town later that morning, and he didn’t want her to fall down the stairs.


Hank noticed a light go off in his peripheral vision and he reflexively turned his head quickly in response. The sudden physical movement shifted his precarious balance on the icy walkway and his feet began to dance mightily on the ice. Throwing his arms wildly about in an attempt to regain his balance only made the dance worse, until finally both feet flew up in the air and he fell fully on his backside in the two feet of snow bordering the walk. His immediate, wide-eyed surprise at having fallen was replaced by a slow grin, which widened into a chuckling smile.

 
“Well, I don’t ‘spect I’ll ever make it on ‘Dancing with the Stars’…” he said aloud to himself.


Looking upward to the house, he realized the source of the change in light which originally distracted him, was that the light to Chris’ room was off. Still chuckling, he said, “It didn’t take Chris long to get ready. His floor must’ve been cold…” His chuckle grew into a deeper laugh as he mentally pictured Chris throwing back the covers of his bed, quickly tiptoeing to his sock drawer, pulling open the drawer and reaching for his long-underwear located two drawers down from his socks, pulling both out at the same time, throwing both items of clothing onto his bed, and then racing back to the warmth of his bed to put them on under the covers. Still laughing, Hank extricated himself from the snow bank and carefully stood up. As he steadied himself, he suddenly remembered that he didn’t have the keys to Chris’ pickup. Taking a deep breath, he walked back up the stairs and re-entered the house. Scattering snow all over the mudroom, he opened the door to the kitchen and stuck his head inside.

 
“Uh… Molly… could you get Chris’ keys for me?”


“Sure,” Molly said, turning her head to respond. Upon seeing Hank covered in snow, her brow furrowed and her mouth twisted into a half-smile. “What happened to you?”

 
“Snow angels…” Hank responded with a straight face, and eyes twinkling.

 
Slowly shaking her head from side to side, Molly disappeared up the stairs to retrieve the keys from Chris’ room. When she returned, she was still shaking her head, but the humor was gone from her countenance.

 
“He’s still in bed, Hank,” she said as she handed him the keys.

 
“Well, I don’t have time to roll him outta bed now… I’ll deal with him when I’m done with chores,” he said, the twinkle in his eyes gone and his jaw set.

 
“I’m sorry… I should have made sure he was up.” Molly apologized.


Hank’s face softened, “It’s not yore fault, Darlin’ The boy’s just gotta learn…”

 
The mood lightened when Hank suddenly took a piece of melting snow off his coveralls and flicked it at Molly as she stood in the doorway.


“HEY!” she yelled as the snow struck her neck and disappeared down the front of her robe. “HANK DRESDEN! Ooooooooh…. That’s so COLD!” she yelled, shivering.

 
Hank started laughing and quickly slipped out of the house before Molly could retaliate.


As Hank walked to Chris’ pickup, a voice broke the early morning quiet, “Hey Old Man! Gettin’ a late start, ain’t cha?”


It was Frank, his eldest son.


Hank smiled before responding, “Yeah, I was making snow angels,” he said, motioning to the large dent in the snow beside the sidewalk.

 
“That angel’s a little heavy in the rump, ain’t he?” Frank teased with a crooked smile.

 
“Let’s just say he’s got a wide foundation,” Hank quipped.

 
“Where’s Chris?” Frank asked.

 
“Just like Frank,” Hank thought, “Always wanting to make sure chores are given fair and square.” He then responded, “Chris is still in bed.”

 
“If I said I was surprised, I’d be lyin’.” Frank said, “The bed of his pickup is full ‘o beer cans and the front fender is messed up. The headlight is busted, too.” Frank waited for that to sink in, and then said, “Dad, you gotta…”

 
“Yeah, I know…” Hank interrupted. “Let’s get to work.”

 
“You go get the hay,” Hank directed, “and I’ll bring in the cows. I’d get the hay, but my snow angel’s foundation is sore…” he joked dryly.

………………………………………………………………………………………………………………..

Pain and sunlight awakened Chris from his alcohol-induced slumber. His body took its lead from his head. The pain began as a dull ache, but as soon as he opened his eyes, a percussion symphony of pain began at the top of his head and worked its way downward as he turned his head to look at the clock through a bleary, squinting gaze.

 
“Oh crap!” Chris groaned when his vision cleared sufficiently to actually read the time. “I’m gonna be late!”


The quilts seemed to weigh a thousand pounds as he lifted them. He slid his legs to the side of the bed, and slowly pushed himself into a sitting position, with legs dangling over the side. Grasping the side of his mattress, he pressed his feet into service by standing. Both his feet and head screamed in response; leading a chorus of pain taken up by the rest of his body. He precariously swayed, trying to counteract the gravitational pull of his bed… or the floor. Finally, Chris was able to bring a modicum of dexterity to his movements, or at least enough coordination to get dressed.
As he walked down the hall to the top of the stairs, he was greeted by the glorious mix of smells coming from the kitchen. However, Chris’ stomach reacted unexpectedly to the otherwise comforting aroma. A sudden rush of nausea sent Chris scurrying into the upstairs bathroom just in time for an explosion of sour-tasting, St. Louis brewed bile which splattered in, over, and around the toilet.

 
“Oh God…” Chris groaned.

 
Almost immediately, his mind was flooded with a deluge of thoughts:

 
“I’m late!”
“Where’s my keys…?”
“Oh SHIT! I have a test!”
“I hate those guys!”
“I’ll never mix vodka and beer again…”

 
The thought of vodka and beer pulled another deep groan from his sour lips, and he spat, to force the sourness from his mouth. He then raked his forearm across his face in an attempt to wipe the bile from his mouth and the memory from his thoughts. Leaving a mess in the bathroom, Chris made the trek again to the top of the stairs and began to shakily descend. With each step, the percussion symphony in his head added a vicious, accented cymbal crash. Upon entering the kitchen, Chris found his family finishing a breakfast of bacon, scrambled eggs, biscuits, and gravy; topped off by fried apples and coffee. It was Chris’ favorite meal… but not today!

 
“Good morning, Sunshine!” his father boomed in a tone which was both overly bright and tinged with sarcasm. Frank and Molly exchanged glances and shared slight smiles.

 
“Mornin’…” Chris mumbled, and then asked, “Have you seen my keys?”

 
“I have them,” his father said, after taking a drink of coffee.

 
“Well, could I have them?” Chris asked impatiently.

 
“Nope.” Hank replied evenly. “You’ll have to ride the bus this morning and probably will for awhile.”

 
“But I have a test this morning and I planned on getting to school early so I could study!” Chris lied. “And I have basketball practice after school, so can’t take the bus home.” That part was true.

 
“Not gonna happen…” Hank stated evenly.

 
“But Dad…” Chris exploded. “That’s not fair!”

 
“Not fair?” Frank exploded in kind, rising from his chair and dropping his fork to the floor. “I’ll tell you what’s not fair… I had to do your chores and mine… that’s what’s ‘NOT FAIR!’ And now I have to go in late to work because you decided to get drunk and wreck your pick-up last night! Now Dad has to get it fixed… THAT’S what’s ‘not fair.’” Catching a breath, Frank added towards his father, “You ought to sell it, Dad! Chris doesn’t deserve it!”

 
Molly grabbed the older brother’s arm, “Calm down, Frank. Your father will handle this. You’re gonna spoil your breakfast…”


“Actually,” Hank began, his deep voice resonating through the room. “Chris is right. It isn’t fair… it’s generous!” Pausing for effect, he then continued, “God has graciously given us a family farm. He has honored us by allowing us to work together as a family and has blessed the work our hands. We live a bountiful life! I am thankful for being able to share life with the love of my life, who treats me better than I deserve… especially by giving me fried apples for breakfast… I am also blessed by having two strong, smart sons who I get the pleasure of working with every day! This farm is our farm, boys… It is your farm… Your home! It is God’s gift to us. God gives us himself and each other. And that is beautiful.”


After the room was quiet for several seconds, Chris quietly asked, “So… can I have my keys?”
With a slight smile on his face, Hank said, “Nope!”

Faith to Receive…

A couple months ago, I finally saw the movie, “Pay it Forward.” The premise of the movie is that giving something we have that others  need can change the world. In the movie, a seventh grade teacher gives an assignment for his students to come up with an idea that can change the world. One of the students, a small boy who lives with his hard working, single mother in a poor neighborhood, thinks long and hard about the assignment as he goes about his day to day life. He gets an idea, and begins to act on it. The idea being: Find three people and do a favor for them, asking them to do a favor for three other people rather than repay you.  The belief behind the idea is that kindness keeps on giving, changing lives in the process.

It takes courage to be kind and generous, but  giving keeps on giving. Meanness does eventually have a limit, but generosity and grace and forgiveness lives on and expands. However, sometimes the recipient of another person’s kindness can be very cautious of the giver’s intentions. Life seems to reinforce the addage: “There ain’t no free lunch…” Cynicism grips our heart in its icy, tightening grasp. We are tempted to mistrust the person giving us something we need. We expect there to be a catch. We are defensive, protecting ourselves from the very kindness we need. Usually, we need faith to receive. Faith in the person giving. We need to believe in their open benevolence.

I have come to a crossroads in my life. There are options open to me and I must choose which way. Admittedly, I have been reluctant to expect the goodness in life recently. For several years, I have listened for the other shoe to drop. “Things are going well right now, it’s about time for something unpleasant.” I would say to myself. My expectations were very low, and they usually were fulfilled. Living in this manner left me in a rut… a rut is a grave with the ends kicked out. Frankly, I didn’t trust life, myself, or God to provide good things.

But somewhere along the line, I began to understand that I was afraid of the good things in life. Afraid they would be taken away eventually. Afraid that if I risked… put myself out there… that I would fail.  I find this a really sad way to live. So I began asking God to give me faith to trust Him. Faith in myself and my gifts. Faith in God, my children and family… that they love me and want the best for me.

I asked God to give me faith to receive the life He has for me. My prayer has been for faith to receive his provision even though I can’t see it now. Faith like Abraham… to leave where you have known and been known on the promise of a new home while trusting God knows the end of the journey and has provision not only at the final destination, but along the way. Faith to receive both the good and painful. For the painful has invaluable things to teach us and also must be received. So does hunger… and loneliness/seperation, and loss.

 Thankfully, we also learn from the good. Gratitude is our response to the good that God has given us. We learn how much God loves us as we look around our lives and measure the depths of His good gifts.

Faith receives everything that is part of the journey and trusts it is just what we need. Because faith is tied to the love of God.

I started lifting weights a couple months ago… although… I…. haven’t been… in awhile……

Anyway, when I lift, the muscle tissue actually tears and then must heal. When it heals, it is stronger. Blood rushes to the tissue and brings the needed nutrients to repair and strengthen the minute injuries. That is how the body works. Our lives are no different. We grow stronger as we are stretched and torn. While the body needs rest and food to provide nutrients from outside sources, we each need to replenish our souls in activities which we enjoy… good things in our daily routine also enable growth.

What is sometimes bothersome to me in life, though, is that you don’t often see the “results” as you do with your body. Or, maybe not the results you were hoping for…thought were what you needed… But maybe in life, as in lifting weights, other people close to us notice it sooner than we do. And maybe that’s part of the reason it is actually “faith.”

Also in lifting weights, you make gains quickly at first, but there comes a time when you plateau. The same effort doesn’t seem to be getting results.  So you have to change up your routine and add different exercises. Your muscle memory and habits must  adapt to new challenges.

Our lives are no different. Doing the same thing and expecting something different is insanity, so when life changes, we must believe God is changing the exercises. Our response of faith is like continuing to go to the gym, even when we don’t feel the difference. So we receive the change without knowing why, yet trust in the long range purposes of God. We trust that God desires good for us, and wants to give us a fruitful life, out of which we joyfully give to others.

Although I don’t know what it is yet, I know a change is gonna come…

Courage to Believe in Other People….

I’ve been away from this blogging discipline for quite awhile. The last blog I posted was about having courage to believe in myself. Frankly, I have been working on that process. I am learning how fundamental learning about myself is to how I approach life and relationships. Actually, my relationship with God, grants me access into a deeper, and more honest understanding of my value, gifts, talents, and the manner in which I am hard-wired to approach life. Counterintuitively, this self-knowledge and honesty helps me approach others with greater understanding.

My dad used to say that a man is tempted to live in one of two ways: Either he is hard on others and easy on himself or he is easy on others and hard on himself. While I understand what his point was, I have begun to see that the manner in which we see other people is tied to what we think and feel about outselves. As I have  stated before, Jesus’ statement regarding the two most important commandments (Mark 12: 24-34), points us to a principle of relational life. I suppose if I were to put a name to the principle, it would be: Vine Life. Jesus uses the picture of a vine as a means of describing healthy living….

John 15: 1-17

  “I am the Real Vine and my Father is the Farmer. He cuts off every branch of me that doesn’t bear grapes. And every branch that is grape-bearing he prunes back so it will bear even more. You are already pruned back by the message I have spoken.

 “Live in me. Make your home in me just as I do in you. In the same way that a branch can’t bear grapes by itself but only by being joined to the vine, you can’t bear fruit unless you are joined with me.

 “I am the Vine, you are the branches. When you’re joined with me and I with you, the relation intimate and organic, the harvest is sure to be abundant. Separated, you can’t produce a thing. Anyone who separates from me is deadwood, gathered up and thrown on the bonfire. But if you make yourselves at home with me and my words are at home in you, you can be sure that whatever you ask will be listened to and acted upon. This is how my Father shows who he is—when you produce grapes, when you mature as my disciples.

 “I’ve loved you the way my Father has loved me. Make yourselves at home in my love. If you keep my commands, you’ll remain intimately at home in my love. That’s what I’ve done—kept my Father’s commands and made myself at home in his love.

 “I’ve told you these things for a purpose: that my joy might be your joy, and your joy wholly mature. This is my command: Love one another the way I loved you. This is the very best way to love. Put your life on the line for your friends. You are my friends when you do the things I command you. I’m no longer calling you servants because servants don’t understand what their master is thinking and planning. No, I’ve named you friends because I’ve let you in on everything I’ve heard from the Father.

 “You didn’t choose me, remember; I chose you, and put you in the world to bear fruit, fruit that won’t spoil. As fruit bearers, whatever you ask the Father in relation to me, he gives you.

 “But remember the root command: Love one another.

In a vine, the elements necessary for life of each branch flow while it is connected to the vine. If a branch is seperated from the vine and the flow of nutrients, it shrivels and dies. If the branch is still intact, however, they are enriched and grow, and the nutrients are passed along to other branches which sprout from the original branch.

My relationship with God, reminds me that he chose me. He calls me his friend. He created me to be fruitful. To be someone of value to him, to other people, and to myself as I express my passions in unique beauty. I am also reminded within this relationship that there is also dysfunction within me. But the presence of my dysfunction does not deter nor detract from my value. God communicates that to me as only God can, in love… by giving me good things I don’t deserve…. by continuing the flow of life giving nutrients while I remain connected to him. I can then be safe. I become thankful for my gifts, yet humble regarding my weaknesses, and that it is ok to have both. I don’t have to pretend to be something I am not, because who I am is enough… actually, its really good. Knowing this produces courage within me to believe in other people. I don’t have to keep a mask in place. I give others what I have received from God. The life flows through the vine into me, and through me into other people. I also give them room to work through the issues in their life. I can become involved, if it seems to make sense and they are open to it, but I do not control them nor their process. That is God’s work, and I am fully incapable of doing God’s work. I sometimes forget that.

Learning my own areas of passion and the manner in which I naturally express them, helps me understand and value the manner in which other people express their individuality. The danger is when I expect other people to love the same things I love and to express that love in the same manner as  I do. I saw a great illustration of this today on the cable tv show, “Overhaulin”.

I love make-over programs on tv. It doesn’t seem to matter whether the object being renovated is a home, a vehicle, or a person’s wardrobe and fashion style. I just love to watch someone enter a person’s world, and give them something of beauty where there was once mediocrity or ugliness. The show “Overhaulin'” uses the automotive, creative genius of Chip Foose and his team of artisans to completely redesign someone’s automobile in 7 days. The process isn’t completely straight forward, however, because they want the transformation to be an elaborate surprise. They scam the owner of the vehicle with the help of close friends or family, and a steady supply of actors who fool the “mark” into believing their vehicle has been stolen or wrapped up in extensive red tape which will require it to be out of the owner’s possession. The scheme isn’t just one scam at the beginning of the week where the “mark” is advised they will get back the vehicle at the end of the week. The practical jokers aren’t that kind. They string the owner along, with repeated scams which continue to highten the tension of the “mark”. Often, the vehicle has some sentimental significance to the owner, like it was his father’s car who bought it new, or the owner just has a passion for the vehicle and is intent on restoring it but just hasn’t had the time or money… whatever the reason, there usually is a strong emotional tie to the vehicle, so it’s loss is extremely upsetting. To make matters worse, as they tape the show, the actors and mechanics talk to the “mark” via the videotape they will eventually see. As they view the tape, they will also see themselves fighting for the return of their vehicle, which can be really embarassing to the “mark”. It’s really a great show!

Today, I watched “The Best of Overhaulin.'” In this segment, they bring former recipients of Fooste’s creative makeovers, and talk to them about their experience during their show, and how people have responded to their “new/old” car. I immediately became particularly interested in one of the former “marks” when he mentioned that his was the tenth project the show had taped. The car was an Oldsmobile 442, a real gearhead car. A 70’s muscle car that could really get up and move in its day. Actually, the guy had taken pretty good care of the car before the makeover, and one of the scenes included the two actor/hosts showing some speed while they “stole” the car.

When the owner was being interviewed by Chip, genius car designer and hands-on gear head artist, he was asked how he liked the car now. The guy, of course responded with pride and gratitude, but then something very interesting happened. Chip gently said, “I hear you changed the motor…”

After a slight pause, the owner said, “Yeah…” and then began to explain what he had done and what systems he had kept in place from the original engine makeover. He spoke almost apologetically, hoping, I suppose, that his changes hadn’t offended Chip and his team. However, Chip responded gently, with no trace of being offended at all.

As soon as Chip asked the question, my mouth fell open. To me, changing a Foose design is like taking a paint brush and paint into the Louvre, and beginning to change the smile on the Mona Lisa because you feel it’s too subtle. Suddenly, I saw that I had a dilema on my hands. How was I to interpret the actions of this car owner? One way of interpretting his actions was to believe he was too picky. One of the most famous car designers in the world had changed your car from good to priceless and it just wasn’t good enough for you. What a small-minded, egomaniacle little man….

Another way of looking at it is that the owner felt like a victim… like it wasn’t his car anymore. Someone else had done the work, and in his mind, it now belonged to them. How prideful. How short-sighted….

Suddenly, a new thought crept into my mind… What if…. What if this guy just really loved to work on his car? What if it were one of his passions? Maybe the guy loved the new design, but he just loved getting grease under his fingernails. Maybe he comes alive in the creative process of working on a car he loves. Looking at the guy in this way helped me. The manner in which Chip Foose responded to the owner makes me wonder if this isn’t the case. Chip wasn’t threatened by the guy’s work. He seemed to understand it. Mainly, because Chip is a car-guy too. He is ALWAYS hands-on during the process. Chip’s father was a world-class car designer, so I suspect he grew up in a garage with a screw-driver in his hand. If anyone would understand the love of working on a car, Chip Foose would, because he shared the same passion.

I love thinking that thought. Two passionate people who hold lightly to the metal upon which they work because they know it is the process that holds their attention. And change just means a lengthened, enjoyable process. The car was like a canvas upon which they could both create and express themselves. By working on the same canvas, it became a shared piece of art. That is so cool!

Knowing ourselves opens us to deeper sharing with other people. However, it takes courage to hold lightly to our own perceptions and assumptions about somebody else. The healthier we are individually… the more secure in our value as defined by God… the easier it is to accept and love others deeply.

Knowing what we love, helps us see the same value in someone else and appreciate their courage to express that love…