As usual for Sunday nights, I did not sleep well and woke up feeling un-rested. I had planned on working in the yard but outside it looked uninvitingly cold and wet. A warm corner of our couch and an entertaining book seemed more appealing.
Judi was getting ready to go to work. I asked “Is that storm supposed to hit this morning?&r One of our favorite shopping places is the nearby Goodwill store in Edmonds. Our Goodwill habit is something like recreational shopping, as if we were on a scavenger hunt for good and (hopefully) useful bargains. Occasionally we buy a sweatshirt, or a pair of pants, or maybe a plastic container. I once found a useful golf club for $4. But more than anything else, Goodwill has been our source for “Willow gear”. Judi is the nanny for our granddaughter, Willow. When Judi took on this responsibility we had only a few things left over from our “baby days/daze”. So we bought a few new things like a crib and a fence/barrier thing. We also did not have enough stuff to occupy an active and curious little girl. So we went to Target and bought a few new toys. But we realized that buying new toys would be an expensive way to travel the long childcare road ahead of us. So we began making frequent forays to Goodwill, looking for “Willow gear”. Over the past two years we have bought child-sized pieces of furniture like a table and chairs and a little kitchen setup. But more than anything else we have bought an abundance of toys, puzzles, videos and, especially, books. When Judi finds a book for Willow, she buys it for 79 cents, brings it home, cleans it up to her (Judi’s) satisfaction and puts it in the “Willow room.” Recently Judi found a little thick paged book entitled “Thank You God for the Wonderful World.” It had nice colorful illustrations and a simple text. Perfect. So she brought it home, cleaned it up and placed it among Willow’s other books. Willow always notices anything new in her room, however small it might be. So, the morning after Judi put the new book in her room, Willow walked in, surveyed her domain, and immediately said, “Ooooh, wow” and walked over to her new book and admired it. Later that day, at nap time, Judi read the “new” book to Willow before putting her to bed. The first caption read “Thank you God, for golden sunshine that makes the bright new day.” Judi read the next caption “Thank you God, for soft rain, that makes the flowers grow.” And the next one “Thank you God for the breeze that lifts my kite so high.” And so it went, I think you can see the plot. Willow quietly sat on Judi’s lap, looking at the pictures and listening. And then she said something we had not expected but in retrospect we should have. “W’re Gawg?” She pointed at a child in the book, “Gawg?” Then at a mother, “Gawg? Then she answered her own question: “No...Laydee” “W’re Gawg?” Judi answered Willow as best she could, but how do you answer that question for a two year old whose most challenging conceptualization at this point in her life is the use of a potty chair? As Judi told me the story my first thought was “That’s not the last time she will ask that question.” I trust that Willow will have a firm, heartfelt answer to that question, “God is here, in my life, in this world. I know that because I know who Jesus is and I believe in what he did...” But I also know there may be times, dark times of less certainty, when the question will sound more like “Where is God? Why didn’t He show up?” Willow’s question also brought to mind how difficult it is to believe in the Unseen One. What an amazing thing faith is called upon to do when it must look beyond the visible truth and believes in, commits itself to, the unseen Truth. I am confident that Willow will someday take that step and when she does we, as her family, will be blessed by the purity of her trust. But hopefully we will also be awed by the amazing enormity of what it means and what it takes for her, for all of us, to step across the gap between what is seen and what is unseen. As I write this, something else comes to mind. We are in the Advent season, in which we celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ, God Almighty in wrinkled skin. We will make this declaration over and over again. Its repetition should not make it any less amazing to us. We do well to marvel at the impossible quality of the truth God asks us to believe and trust. God became a baby. Perhaps we can better see the enormity of believing in The Incarnation by answering Willow’s question:“W’re Gawg?” in this way, “There He is, He’s the baby lying in the feeding trough.” “W’re Gawg” indeed. ***************************************************** dquo; She said no, it would probably arrive in the afternoon. I said, “I guess I should work in the yard this morning.” I don’t remember how she replied but I don’t think she said “You shouldn’t go out in that cold, nasty weather. You should find a warm spot under a cozy blanket, read a good book and have a cup of hot coco…while I go off to work.” I’m pretty sure that’s not what she said.
So I put on an old pair of jeans and an old sweatshirt. I went down to our “garage” where I keep my working-in-the-garden shoes. I put them on and opened the garage door.
When I work in the garden in unpleasant weather, opening the garage door is the moment of decision, the initiating act, almost like a curtain raising. “Am I really going to do this?” On this morning, I hesitated; there was rain in the wind. But I stepped outside and closed the door behind me. I was now committed.
In the shed, I put on my rain gear. Then I went out in the wind and rain and stood in the middle of the yard. I frequently do this. In this case, I was standing there because I had bought several plants for half price and now I was trying to decide where to put them. Better and richer gardeners make a plan first and then buy plants to fit the plan. I’ve never done that.
Eventually I chose a good site but I first had to move a plant I’d bought it at a clearance sale of unmarked plants. Now, full grown, I could see it was in the wrong place. So, I moved it and then prepared the soil for the new plants and put them in the ground.
What to do next? There was a empty space by the shed that needed to be filled in. I decided a nearby camellia shrub would fit the space nicely. So I dug it up, moved it into its new spot and staked it. I stood back and surveyed my work – better, much better.
By now it was time for a cup of coffee. I changed out my already muddy clothes so I could go to QFC for coffee and a scone. As I drove back, it began to rain enough so that my windshield wipers worked briskly. When I got home I changed back into my muddy clothes and returned to the garden.
I raked leaves and pine needles. I cut back hostas, asters and other plants that were past their seasons. I recycled plants that had not done well. Soon the recycle bin was overflowing.
Then I considered cutting off a low limb on one of our massive pine trees. I borrowed our neighbor’s ladder, leaned it against the tree and climbed as high as I dared. I soon realized the limb was bigger (8 inches?) than I had thought. It could have easily swung down and knock me off the ladder. I looked down…again…then climbed down the ladder. I laughed at myself and went on to other things.
I finished my day by the front door raking up more leaves and needles just as Judi came out the front door. She stopped and stared at me, a half smile on her face. I was covered with dirt and mud. I’m sure she thought; “You’ve been playing in the mud again.”
When I was done raking I took off my rain gear, laid it on the lawn and hosed off the mud. I brushed most of the mud off my shoes and pants. Then I called it a day. I was tired, but it was a good, deeply satisfying kind of tired.
Later, as I washed up, I looked in the mirror and saw I had mud all over my face. It made me smile. I guess I had been playing in the mud.
In theology there is something called common grace. It describes the blessings that come from God in the ordinary things of life. My day in the mud had been an experience of God’s common grace.
I slept well that night.
Have you ever wondered, “How long does it take to drink a Starbucks Venti?” I know the answer to that question, at least as it applies to one unidentified individual.
When I arrive at work in the morning it is not uncommon for me to see an empty Starbucks cup lying on our lawn. I see it frequently enough so that I am not surprised by it. This paper cup is always a Venti, it is always in the planting area along the east side of our sign and it is usually lying in a north-south orientation. I pick it up and throw it away.
So how long does it take to drink a Starbucks Venti? Well, for one individual it takes the time to walk the 2½ blocks from the nearest Starbucks.
Admittedly my research is based on uncertain assumptions. Perhaps the cup bearer jogs rather than walks; although I doubt that. Possibly this cup bearer stops and sits on our lawn and leisurely sips his/her drink, and then dumps their cup on our yard where it patiently waits for me to pick it up.
I am not telling you about this Starbucks cup because it is inherently worthy of comment. I have something else in mind. I want to rant.
When I see that cup I think to myself, “That’s not right, that’s rude! Leaving your trash on someone else’s yard is just plain rude.”
I cannot think of a legitimate excuse for this rudeness. “Maybe he can’t take it with him.” No, he got it this far, he can take it with him. “Maybe we should provide a trash can.” No, on several levels.
This rudeness, like other expressions of rudeness, is enabled by anonymity. I assume we don’t know this person and he does not know us. It is easier to be rude when you don’t know the people you are treating rudely..
But there is another, deeper, reason for rudeness. At its core rudeness is an expression of arrogance because it says, in effect, “My time is more valuable than yours. You pick up my trash; I have other things to do.” Rudeness is wrong.
Given all that is wrong in this world, I admit rudeness may not be the problem of greatest magnitude. That said, rudeness is a matter of some importance to God. When we are rude to people we are violating God’s fundamental command to “Love your neighbor as yourself.” There many other ways to obey this command and many of those are probably more significant and life changing than the simple practice of not being rude. Nonetheless, if we value God’s command to love of neighbor as ourselves, then we need to understand that rudeness has the power to veto any expression of love.
Furthermore, rudeness is specifically condemned by God in His Word.In I Corinthians 13 the Apostle Paul’s gives us an elegant and lyrical description of love. But right into the middle of this beautiful description he inserts a simple, inelegant and unequivocal statement “Love is not rude.” It’s that simple.
Followers of Jesus should not be rude people. Rudeness is not only wrong according to God’s word, it also devalues our witness. There are many ways for us to be “good witnesses”, but surely one of simplest and more effective ways is simply by not being rude.
I’m done ranting. Now I want to rave.
Last summer, I was playing golf with three other guys from our church. We came to the 8th tee. Lying on the ground by the tee marker was a beer bottle. Clearly someone, earlier in the day, had drunk their beer and then tossed the bottle aside. Please understand, there was a wastebasket about 15, maybe 20, feet away and it was nearly full of empty pop cans, beer bottles and other trash. Obviously a lot of other people had traveled those 15-20 feet to the trash can.
One man in our group saw the beer bottle. He picked it up, took it over to the trash can and dropped it in. He could have left it there since the golf course pays people to pick up trash. Instead, he chose to pick it up and throw it away.
Loving our neighbor as ourselves is rarely about the big moments in life. It is almost always about the little details of the little moments of everyday life.
I am going to tell you about a visit I made some years ago. It was a visit to see a woman named Dilly. You probably never knew Dilly so let me tell you about her.
Her real name was Adele, but she always went by Dilly because it was less formal as well as more descriptive. Dilly was definitely Dilly rather than Adele.
When Judi and I came to Shoreline Covenant a long time ago, Dilly and her husband Al were at the very center of the church’s life. The congregation had been through some very difficult times. The Prahinskis were among the small core of people who were there to welcome us when we arrived.
Al and Dilly were gifted “includers”. They would welcome visitors to the church with attention and warmth. They made newcomers feel welcomed and wanted. They opened their home and their hearts to others. I don’t think we’ve ever had anyone else quite so gifted in this way as Al and Dilly were.
They were also generous with their resources and effusive with their praise. Every baby seemed to be either the cutest or the brightest or the most beautiful or the most something. I was the greatest pastor and Judi was the loveliest pastor’s wife.
Al and Dilly were overflowing with the love of God, love of others and love of life. If they didn’t brighten a room when they walked in, it could not be brightened by anyone.
Then Al got sick with a form of acute anemia. He died not long after it was diagnosed. A;hough she went on with her life, lived independently, remained active at church, and maintained a busy schedule, I don’t think Dilly ever recovered from the loss of Al.
Then Dilly began to forget things, like turning off the burners on her stove. She became afraid of people and uncomfortable in public places. Life in general became difficult for her and she became difficult for others. She became confused, unapproachable, and often antagonistic. There was talk of Alzheimers. Over time she became more and more distant not only from friends and family, but also from her own true self.
She was moved into a nursing home and then into another.
When I saw her that day she was out in the hallway, tied into her wheelchair. She was gaunt, her eyes half closed, her mouth half opened. The front of her blouse was dirty as if she had spilled or drooled on herself. She didn’t know who I was; she hadn’t for a long time. If you had not seen Dilly in years, you might not recognize her. She was a faint and disfigured image of who she once was.
I stood by her for a moment and said “Hello Dilly.”
Then I bent down so I could whisper into her ear, what had become a kind of litany for us.
“Dilly, Jesus loves you.” She nods her head.
“Dilly, do you trust Jesus?” More nodding.
“Dilly, he loves you so much he died on the cross for you.”
In faint voice she says, “I didn’t know that” and weeps.
I continue, “Dilly, you are his child, you belong to him and someday soon he’s going to take you home to heaven where he has prepared a place for you.”
She nods her head again.
This all takes only a minute but in that moment it seems to me that Dilly has reached through her confused thinking and touched her bedrock, touched who she really is.
Our litany over, I leave, walking past other residents much like Dilly.
Sometimes when I visit Dilly I feel saddened, partly because I feel guilty for not visiting her more often, but mostly because of her condition and the condition of others in the nursing home.
But on that particular visit I felt strangely encouraged.
It occurred to me that I truly believed what I had said to Dilly. I had spoken the true conviction of my heart.
I am susceptible to uncertainties and misgivings. In the dark of the night I sometimes hear myself wondering “What if it’s not true?” For that reason, moments like that litany with Dilly are important to me. They help me listen better to the Spirit when he “testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children.”
If someone had been watching as I bent down to Dilly and softly spoke into her ear, they would have said I was speaking to Dilly. But if they could have seen me, really seen me, they would have seen that something else was going on, they would have known that my words were not just spoken for Dilly, they were spoken for me.
As I left the nursing home and walked to my car, I thought to myself, “If I ever become like Dilly I want someone to speak to me, the words I have spoken to Dilly today. I want someone to tell me that Jesus loves me and someday soon I’m going to be with him in heaven.”
I will need to hear those words then, just as I need to hear them now.