Month: May 2012

Strangers

Today the characters came out in Greenville.

After a couple of hours of conversation over Italian ices and shopping, a friend and I were lingering near our cars in the parking lot before heading home for the evening. Then an old conversion van came through, driven by an unshaven, time-worn man wearing a very large, very purple cowboy hat. CCM blared out the rolled-down windows.

There was an oversized flag attached to the back part of the van, with the black and gold face of a bearded man and the words “Jesus Loves You.” Every window was covered with words written in dry-erase neon, and I had to blink a few times and walk closer to make them out. They were psalms. Warnings from Isaiah. Words of Jesus.

“Don’t go to hell!” the words pleaded. My friend and I looked at each other. We blinked again, as if to clear our vision, and glanced back at the van. As the sky grew darker, the van’s interior began to glow–neon purple–and the man took up a dance, aided by a long walking stick and an oversized red bandanna, which he jerked through the air as he undulated with the music.

I don’t know what the guy was trying to do, and I’m even less sure about the effectiveness of his evangelism techniques (I’m being polite here). At the very least, he has an outspoken testimony for Christ.

I bet he has a story to tell. If I see him again, I’m going to ask him for it. Maybe I actually have something to learn from this purple-hatted cowboy.

60 minutes, 469 words

Last semester, I entered a writing contest at my university. Contestants were given a topic–“Behind the Scenes”–and 60 minutes to write. Until I received a copy of my essay this week, I couldn’t  remember what I wrote. Something about family. Either way, this is what came out of my pencil–and, somehow, this is the essay that won. 

Behind the Scenes

Eight minutes had passed. Then, forty-five. An hour. That bit they say about watched pots?

It’s so painfully cliché that I hate to acknowledge the truth in it. But I’d been waiting twenty years for that phone call.

Every minute dragged me along with it. I tried walking around outside, cell phone in hand, but it took too much energy to figure out where to go. I’d been waiting twenty years for that phone call. So I sat down and kept vigil.

When the phone in my hand finally buzzed, I almost dropped it. Awkwardly catching it before it hit the ground, I hit a button. Put it to my ear. And forgot the script. What does one say when answering the phone? What does one say when talking to Mother for the first time?

There’s something about adoption. You see a family. Mom, dad; kids. A dog. A picket fence, if you’re lucky. Everyone knows their part and sticks mostly to the lines they’ve been given; well-ordered stage movement creates a logical flow of events that contribute to the effective communication of a story. Maybe it’s straightforward and easy to follow. Maybe it keeps you guessing. Maybe it makes you cry—but there it is, and people are watching that ordinary drama of every day. That’s family.

But there’s something different about adoption. Often the players don’t even know when the curtain is up. What exactly is stage left, anyway? Is this a rehearsal or the real deal? There’s something beautiful about adoption, a putting-together of pieces that belong as surely as a newborn belongs in the lap of the mother who bore the child. The most stunning demonstration of God’s love to man, far from an ordinary drama.

Someone knew the script, and whatever looked like back-stage before reversed, but it was beautiful.

It’s the ultimate picture of love: Christ dying, that I could be counted one of His children. I’ve known the lines to that old, old story for some time. “I’m so glad I’m a part of the family of God…” –but who really knows adoption until you’ve seen what goes on when the curtain is drawn?

I waited twenty years for that phone call, but it taught me more about Christ’s love than it did about a mother’s. Twenty years, and I learned what adoption feels like without a script. Twenty years, and looking into the faces of brothers, family I never knew I had—looking and seeing more than eyes and noses shaped just like mine.

Like the gospel story, it’s messier, more involved than anything you’d expect to see on a stage. More beautiful, too.

God spent an eternity planning the most vital adoption anyone would ever know. Not an ordinary drama.

Mystery

ImageAs I write this, I’m in a car nearing the end of a 24-hour road trip. Though my one-car caravan stopped for a short (and, incidentally, sleepless) overnight in Mississippi, I’m drained. And and ready as I am to get on with this summer, I miss the mystery of West Texas already.

West of Santa Anna and south of Amarillo, the sandy desert hills near the New Mexico border morph into flat plains and plateaus. This land, mainly used for oil and natural gas wells now, was completely bare five years ago–occupied only by jackrabbits, roadrunners, and smaller lizard-y creatures.

Now those flatlands and plateaus are sprinkled with thousands of 100-foot-tall power-generating windmills. It wouldn’t be completely strange to see a Don Quijote wannabe, decked out in ostrich-skin boots and a misshapen felt Stetson, rappelling one of those statuesque white figures.

In a different place, the streamlined white windmills might look startlingly anachronistic, the kind of thing landowners fight tooth-and-nail to keep out of their backyards. In West Texas, folks aren’t deathly concerned about protecting their panoramic views, though. It’s just cactus and grit, after all.

But at night, it’s not just desert and windmills. When the sun finally sinks below the larger-than-life sky, darkness rolls over the oil wells and cactus like a silent, black fog. It’s dozens of miles to the nearest town, and the only lights come from oil derricks and radio towers.

But a few minutes after the darkness settles, those windmills–topped by thousands of blinking ruby lights–turn the West Texas plain into a galaxy of its own. Five years ago, the horizon would have blended right into the sky–but now sparkling red gems reach up and around to meet the Milky Way like an unreal galactic night show.

That trip is over, and soon I’ll have to wash the sand out of my pockets. But I’ve seen it–the intangible mystery of the place I used to live.

I wonder where else I can find it.

81 squarishes

There’s nothing like a week back in my hometown to remind me of the restlessness I was glad to leave four years ago. This week, the solution to my restlessness was in my grandma’s closet. I found a lot of thirty-year-old fabric, scraps left over after Grandma ‘Cille sewed school dresses for her four growing-up girls.

Projects like this remind me why I don’t do projects like this.

Because quilting isn’t my forte, I didn’t finish without muttering some admittedly unfair things about material and the forty-year-old sewing machine I was using.

I also stabbed the batting with the needle a little more vehemently (and a little more frequently) than it really merited. I might have shed a few drops of blood in the process.

Putting together duct work is a whole lot easier.

I get carried away

Greenville, SC to Monahans, TX

With every hundred miles, I go back in time another year. It doesn’t even have to be a back road. Something about a highway curving somewhere—ostensibly toward nothing but the horizon—does it.

Way down yonder on the Chattahoochee toward sweet home Alabama, a stroll past Sugarland to make it to Amarillo by morning…just a hill, just a cottonwood tree, and phwoosh! there goes reality. I wonder how long it’ll be gone this time.

The sky is a thousand times bigger in Texas. I don’t think there’s just one sky here; there are skies. 

And there are plains, dotted with oak trees, and little towns called Weatherford and Mineral Wells and Big Lake and Alpine. Good coffee in the truck stops. Dusty boots. Cool rain. Loads of memories.

Going back home is so weird. 

exeunt

and they leave. Melodramatic version: on Friday, so many friends will walk across a stage, collect a very expensive piece of paper, and never look back.

A few days ago I had the privilege of attending a leadership dinner on campus. What started out as a fairly standard dinner evolved into a most profitable fellowship experience. Someone said, “Hey, can I have a bite of your cheesecake?” Then, as if of their own accord, six different specialty desserts were making the rounds to each diner, losing bites at each stop. By the time the dishes made it back to their original owners, I had re-realized something I already knew.

Life is pretty rich right here and now. Congratulations, graduates! Here’s to a brand new act.

Now to Him who is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that works in us, to Him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen.

–Ephesians 3:20-21