Fatherly

Tonight we talk about fathers. We sit at tables with Bibles and books and a tiny bud of conversation blooms between reciting verses and memorizing verses and staring futilely at verses.

It begins because one boy’s dad helps him with his Bible study. I stop and tell him how special that is, and he says his dad works at home on Tuesdays and Thursdays.

Across the table another fourth grader pipes up: “My dad is home every day.” He works from home, she explains, in a separate office in the house. He is always there.

Next to me, the kid staring at his verse just raises his eyebrows, nearly rolling his eyes. “I see my dad two days a week.”

“Saturday and Sunday?”

“No, wait. One.” His dad travels, so it’s not just the sort of daytime work we associate with fathers. He only sees his dad on Sundays.

And I think of my dad and the shape of him beginning at the age of them.

I have good memories of Proverbs at breakfast, a station wagon on Sundays, bits of Thomas the Tank Engine if we ask just right. I have vague memories of waiting for him to arrive on a Sunday morning, of counting up the days since I’d seen him last, of realizing that he never saw me compete, of understanding that I didn’t mind that at all. I don’t recall being either confused or resentful or aware of any sort of gap in my life. It just was. He was gone, and that was normal. I didn’t adore him any less; I just didn’t need him any more.

I look at my fourth graders. These three have fathers, as I do. How can there be both absence and presence, sometimes absence of heart and sometimes of hand, and what is the relationship between the two? I sit and realize, without unraveling the good things of my childhood, this: I grew up not consciously needing the presence of my father, for I trusted that he loved me and that I loved him and we required very little participation or gestures of love in one another’s lives for that to remain true.

As a fourth grader, I did not ask: does love require presence? But as an adult, knowing that our own fathers build into how we see and know God, then I realize this: I grew up not needing the presence of my Father, for I trusted that He loved me and that I loved Him and we required very little participation or gestures of love in one another’s lives for that to remain true.

I know our earthly fathers walk in the pattern of the heavenly one, and sometimes they stumble. Sometimes they actively and aggressively erase the soul and shape of what a father is meant to be. Sometimes they leave. Sometimes they stay and train up a child. Sometimes a stranger steps into the shoes that a biological father left behind. Sometimes a community comes to hold up the hands of a father who trembles and sometimes the community comes to hold up the child who has no father. Sometimes our fathers become our friends and sometimes we can see through their misshapen pieces to an image larger than them.

So I sit with my fourth graders in a church basement as we wrestle with Scripture and our own realities and I ponder the ways I know my Father both through and in spite of my own father. I sit stunned that His love took shape in presence that both overcomes and completes the imperfect love of my own. My father is not made less by the ways he did not or could not father me, but my Father is made so much more by the ways He does and is to me. My Father gave, that my father might give, and the ways in which he loved and was absent have given vividness to the ways in which the Father loves and is present.

“God loves you so utterly and completely that he has given himself for you in Jesus Christ his beloved Son, and has thereby pledged his very being as God for your salvation. In Jesus Christ God has actualised his unconditional love for you in your human nature in such a once for all way, that he cannot go back upon it without undoing the Incarnation and the Cross and thereby denying himself. Jesus Christ died for you precisely because you are sinful and utterly unworthy of him, and has thereby already made you his own before and apart from your ever believing in him. He has bound you to himself by his love in a way that he will never let you go, for even if you refuse him and damn yourself in hell his love will never cease. Therefore, repent and believe in Jesus Christ as your Lord and Saviour.”

Thomas F. Torrance, The Mediation of Christ

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2018 Books: July & August

Wonder by R.J. Palacio

The Girl Who Drank The Moon by Kelly Barnhill

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows

The Red Pony by John Steinbeck

Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck

A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness*

Thrice the Brinded Cat Hath Mew’d by Alan Bradley

The Grave’s a Fine and Private Place by Alan Bradley

Ghostly Echoes by William Ritter

 

If you haven’t read A Monster Calls, you should probably stop and do that. Right now. I have yet to read a better portrayal of childhood grief than that one, which is the only book to win Britain’s highest awards in children’s writing and illustration.** It was an unexpectedly rich coupling with The Girl Who Drank The Moon, which incorporates the consequences of stifled grief into the fabric of a middle-grade fantasy world. Barnhill’s book is light and cunningly descriptive, while Ness’s writing is haunting and a bit harsh–but both are beautiful in equally gripping ways.

**You may know the illustrator, Jim Kay, from his incredible work illustrating the Harry Potter series. And in case you needed another reason to read, Ness first won the Carnegie medal (the year prior to AMC) for the final book in his sci-fi YA trilogy. When has the last book in that genre ever not been mostly disappointing and/or a slogging exercise in unsatisfactorily tying up loose ends? Yep.

Mind Games

What does it mean

that as soon as you are gone

I see you everywhere?

What does it mean

that you are waiting for the 66 bus

briskly ahead of me on the crosswalk

one aisle over in the store

two stalls down in the fitting rooms?

I know I should rejoice that you are so much more alive than you ever were.

Does it mean

that you walking by the lake

taking the water taxi

passing me in a Tesla

asking for a wine recommendation

should make me glad?

What does it mean

that of the hundred breaths of life

that were withheld from you

you have all of them now

when I don’t have you?

In Memoriam

I only knew you with hair for a little while.

You told me a story about wind and a crosswalk and an errant wig that fell off in front of some poor soul. I still laugh about that one. You were sure you frightened him. You told me about a little boy who was surprised the first day you greeted him while bald. You told me about coming in headwraps and the cost of a wig and how to sew seven layers of hair to a jean cap just so. And then you put a glittering pin on it, because of course you did. I wished I had your bravery. I wondered if you were afraid of those who didn’t know, with that seamless little gap between your own blonde strands and the manufactured ones. I wondered how you would do this summer with that hot wig and that untiring smile. I imagined what your house looked like, with a wig stand by the door. And then I did see it and smiled and saw your real hair again, gray this time, and I couldn’t tell you that I was glad I got to see the faceless heads by the door and the crown of splendor that was yours.

I wonder what your hair looks like in Heaven. Is it ye old faithful blonde or the brunette I saw in pictures? Is it long enough for braids and ponytails and French twists and is it a gift that makes you laugh instead of cry?

*

I only ever knew you as a divorcée.

You kept that one close for a while, until it came out in our hundred days of conversation. You told me of faithful friends and favor on other floors and those who supported your work. You never said how terribly hard it was or how manifold were the sorrows of that season. You told me of singing tours and the always that he was and the leading of the Lord and prayers at night. And then you said, with wistfulness, that you had received the joy of the Lord and His sorrow, too. I wished I had your forgiveness. I wondered why you didn’t begin again and bit my tongue at my asking and you never spoke of those years as anything but delight. I wondered how you managed to see the gifts without their poisoned ending. And then I learned of your kindness and honesty and your choice again and again to stride in faithfulness when you were surrounded by unfaithfulness.

I wonder what it is to drink of His faithfulness now. Do you know the ways you spoke of Him without words? Do you see everything He is now and is it more heartbreakingly certain than anything or anyone you ever knew?

*

I only ever knew you as a boss.

You interviewed me on the suggestion of another. I don’t remember what we said, only that your laugh was loud and quick. Your laugh was everywhere, even when it wasn’t. Or wasn’t supposed to be. I would peek in your office and you would turn around and look up and put down and never said never. You were always a boss and always the boss and somehow in the questions and moments and tears you became more than that. I wished I had your wisdom. I didn’t know how to trust you until your truthfulness became normal and I realized that I had already begun to somewhere among those hours. I wondered how you did it and you never said something other than what it was. I wondered how they felt and you never hid the hurts. I asked how you were and you told me the good and the bad because that was the truth. I had lived with a gap of personhood and maybe you never knew the ways you gave until I realized that it hurt less than it had before. I listened when you said asking was normal and I stopped when you were surprised at my stubbornness and I hurt when your gentleness responded because I had not expected you to care.

I wonder what your honesty looks like now. Are you friend and mother and sister wrapped in bright colors there, too, still giving and caring and welcoming end upon end? Are you wholly daughter and bride and saint in ways that have swallowed the imperfections now and made them new?

*

I only ever knew you with cancer.

You didn’t tell me that. And then I asked and then you did and I wondered why you hadn’t, but it wasn’t a big deal. Or so you said. You never said it was a big deal while it knuckled at your spine and stripped your hair and slept in your organs and filled your lungs. You never said when it hurt or when it was too much. You closed your door and napped with a blanket and said it was a cold and said it was a new thing and it was always new as your thyroid sputtered and your hands swelled and somehow you still wore rings and heels and the perfect earrings for that necklace. I wished I had your perseverance. I asked you why, once. I shouldn’t have, but you let me, as you always did with my questions when I had no one else I trusted to ask. I asked and you answered and said of course. You said of course you would, day after day, for you had children to love and grandbabies to hold and the Lord had walked you this far for this long and getting up to face each day was in your bones, no matter how fragile they became. You had a  basket of yarn waiting and a trip to Mexico to make and someday you were going to return to India and of course you were going to keep going. I didn’t know if you knew how long I had yearned to ask that question and hear that answer and know that there was life to yet live in these decaying bodies.

I wonder if you are different without cancer. If your joy was already bright with laughter and draped in a sari with golden shoes, are you now glittering beyond belief? If I could sit here and listen for the laughter of your presence, does it echo across all of Heaven now that you have His breath?

*

I only ever knew you in slices of time here, ones that are precious and marked and full of the golden hue of fellowship. I only ever knew you between office doors and pieces of paper and the borders of what we were supposed to be doing. I only ever knew you as the woman who hired me twice and loved me a dozen times over. But I will know you again, in the fullness of time, full of precious delight and the golden hue of the New Jerusalem. And I will know you in a place beyond borders and full of feasting and we will both be in bodies that carry no expiration date. And I will hug you when you do not feel like paper and tell you one more time how dearly I love you and it will not be for the last time. And it will be good, as He is.

2018 Books: June

Like a River Glorious by Rae Carson

The Sandman, Vol. 3: Dream Country by Neil Gaiman et al. (graphic novel)

American Gods by Neil Gaiman (2011 edition)

Into the Bright Unknown by Rae Carson

Breath, Eyes, Memory by Edwidge Danticat

The Sandman, Vol. 4: Season of Mists by Neil Gaiman et al. (graphic novel)

 

Less reading this month than I expected, but I’m in the midst of some wonderful books heading into July. Also, Neil Gaiman, whew. The man writes stuff with equal parts profundity and profanity. I wish more authors understood the nature of idolatry and sacrifice as well as he does.

lost.

to be shocked to tears by a glimpse;

the clear shade of light and

the dark blurring of shadow not

the paint-by-numbers of human hands

and soak it in as if this place of near-hue could possibly flood all the gray corners of dead space

to know the trueness of a scent;

the realness of color and

the piquancy of reality not

the bitter tang of chemical mockery

and gasp for it as if you can only breathe one more time and this last taste is what you choose

to hold a piece of former things;

the tracery of forgotten touch and

the ownership of your own fingerprints not

the betrayal of misplaced memories

and clutch it again and find that your hands are not small enough for this to feel the same

to chase down lanes of new life;

the cresting hill of new memories and

the worn grooves of your own footprints not

the treacherous cobblestones of old lifetimes

and look for known lands through the refracted haze of dust and ghosts

to hear the strains of yesterday’s loves;

the wistful line of once begotten and

the thumping echo of heart songs not

the muffled clatter of foreign feet

and lean towards the light-spun notes that can neither be held nor heard again

to reach for another’s touch;

the honest smiles of welcome and

the generous hearts of selfessless not

the choking grip of needy arms

and find new callouses and listless hands and familiar lines composing a stranger’s face

to be placeless.

Unfinished

Who is this God with whom I wrestle?

Who is this God with whom I fight?

***

Who is this God who was when there was not?

Who is this God who breathed life into dust and formed kinship from bones?

Who is this God who walked with His creation in the garden?

Who is this God who clothed those who hid from His face?

Who is this God who heard the cry of wrongful death?

Who is this God who passed through fire and covenant blood?

Who is this God who promised faithfulness to the faithless?

Who is this God who called forth and sent out and was with to the galaxy of generations?

***
Who is this God with whom I wrestle?

Who is this God with whom I plead?

***

Who is this God who heralded himself with trumpets and a chorus of angels?

Who is this God who announced himself with a baby’s cry?

Who is this God who clothed his glory in human skin?

Who is this God who spoke to the outcast and lifted the face of the least of these?

Who is this God who wore the nakedness of emperors and the scorn of sinners?

Who is this God who stretched out his arms before the world?

Who is this God who could not be contained by tombs and rags?

Who is this God who goes to prepare a home for me?

***
Who is this God with whom I wrestle?

Who is this God with whom I strive?

***
Who is this God who draws near to me?

Who is this God who draws me near to him?

Who is this God who said to Jacob: “Let me go”?

Who is this God who will never leave?

Who is this God who plagues with blood and darkness?

Who is this God who restores the years of the locusts?

Who is this God who grants weeping in the night?

Who is this God who sings the lullabies of heaven?

Who is this God who teaches His children to walk?

Who is this God who allows them to stumble yet again?

Who is this God who collects these precious tears?

Who is this God who will wipe them away?

***
Who is this God with whom I wrestle?

Who is this God to whom I cry?

***
Who are you, God?

***

Who are you, God, who walk before and behind and hold all the earth even as it is under your feet?

Who are you, God, who hold back the floodgates of destruction yet send the rain on the just and the unjust?

Who are you, God, who listens to us cry and weeps with us over this world that is not as it should be?

Who are you, God, who heals the sick, gives rest to the weary, and carries the lambs who cannot walk?

Who are you, God, who does not heal me?

***

Who is this God with whom I wrestle?

Who is this God for whom I yearn?

***
Who are you, God, that I should grapple with you and grip your promises with bloodstained hands?

Who are you, God, that these hands should be cleansed by the lifeblood of the Lamb?

Who are you, God, that you rename us and place us in new families of grace upon grace?

Who are you, God, that you should make yourself known in human skin and holy presence?

Who are you, God, that you give yourself again in bread and wine for those who hunger and thirst?

Who are you, God, that you should listen and long for and leave the ninety-nine to answer the pleading of the one who is lost?

Who are you, God, that you delight to be asked?

***

Who is this God with whom I wrestle?

Who is this God in whom I live?

***

“I will be faithful to you and make you mine, and you will finally know me as the LORD.” Hosea 2:20