Abide With Me

crossAt a somber Good Friday service twenty-five or thirty years ago, the congregation sang “Abide With Me” and I looked up in the dim light to see tears in my mother’s eyes. I was eight or ten or twelve – too young to understand her anguish. She was grieving, as though someone had died. Someone close to her. Someone she knew well, and loved.

 

Abide with me; fast falls the eventide

The darkness deepens, Lord with me abide

When other helpers fail and comforts flee

Help of the helpless, Lord abide with me

Age has brought me bits of understanding, and I now grasp the immense faith on display in Mom’s tears. Someone had died. Someone close to her. Someone she knew well, and loved. Jesus Christ, her friend and Savior, died on the cross to redeem her and give her eternal life. It wasn’t a tradition she observed out of habit, not just something she believed. She was certain of His suffering and death, and mourned it.

Swift to it’s close ebbs out life’s little day

Earth’s joys grow dim, its glories pass away

Change and decay in all around I see

O Thou who changest not, abide with me

It’s been nearly a year since Mom died, suddenly and unexpectedly – a thief in the night on a Wednesday afternoon. We sang “Abide With Me” at the funeral and I cried, but I haven’t since then. I’ve been waiting for the heavy hand of grief to fall on my shoulder but it hasn’t. I miss her, but I can’t be sad for Mom. She loved the Lord she served so deeply that His suffering brought her to tears, and now she’s risen to eternal life with Him. Who can cry over that?

I fear no foe with Thee at hand to bless

Ills have no weight and tears no bitterness

Death where’s thy sting, oh grave thy victory?

I triumph still if Thou abide with me

I rejoice for a faith that made Mom’s Savior real and alive and present for her. I pray for that kind of faith. For myself. For my wife and children. For my father and sister and nephews, for my in-laws, for my friends. For you. The glory of Easter outshines the sorrow of the grave for all who believe. Christ has Risen, He has Risen indeed.

Hold Thou Thy cross before my closing eyes

Shine through the gloom and point me to the skies

Heaven’s morning breaks and Earth’s vain shadows flee

In life, in death oh Lord abide with me

Advertisements

ModelStory: Lucky 13

There’s a long wait for a table at Janibelle’s tonight but the older couple sitting outside doesn’t seem to mind. The word is out it’s their 55th wedding anniversary, and they’re passing the time taking congratulations.

IMG_2610My wife and I offered our wishes and were thanked with kind smiles and a hearty handshake – a firm grip for a man in his eighties – but there was no effort on their part to rise. No pretense of it, either, to which we would have said, “Oh, don’t get up.”

They sat, comfortably past the point in their lives where they need to worry about such decorum.

In the time it takes to drain an Old Fashioned, we heard their story:

He was forty-something years in whatever industry. The work came and went so there were lean years and lots of uncertainty. She had a career, too, but it was in segments – when she wasn’t working, she was working as a stay-at-home parent.

They raised five kids, and lost one to a war – a pain I cannot imagine. Some of them did well and some of them struggled. They’re all settled now but you never stop worrying about your children.

There was the time she found the lump, his heart attack, their first grandchild born to their daughter who was not yet out of high school.

Great, crashing waves, all now far astern.

They are veterans.

My own marriage turned thirteen this week, a pleasing accomplishment that doesn’t happen on its own. It takes patience and hard work and an awful lot of forgiveness, and that’s just her part.

After thirteen years, we feel like veterans, too.

She gets this way sometimes, or maybe it’s me, but I don’t panic anymore. I just listen if she wants to talk but I don’t make her. Be patient. Maybe get some flowers – a good move for rookies and veterans the same.

Mothers are beautiful and children are beautiful but childbirth is a medical procedure and there are parts of it that can’t be unseen. When we were younger the mark of an established relationship was the ability to fart in front of each other without it being a big deal. Now we’ve given birth together – twice – and still want to hang out.

We’ve figured a few things out about each other, ridden our little boat over our own formidable waves, so we feel like veterans.

Only we’re not really veterans. Not yet. There’s still a long row to hoe.

“The length of our days is seventy years – or eighty if we have the strength; yet their span is but trouble and sorrow,” says the Psalmist. “They quickly pass, and we fly away.”

But if you’re lucky – and I am – the Lord places in your life a remarkable partner.

Mine is faithful and ferociously loyal. She works tirelessly keeping our little family moving forward. Her blue eyes and beguiling smile still brighten the room. She reads interesting books and thinks interesting thoughts and though I’ve known her more than half my life, she still surprises me. She supports me in my darkest moments. She makes me laugh. She is my best friend.

It doesn’t matter if the road before us is long and steep. Together we are equal to it.

Christmas is Merry, Whether We Know it or Not

wreath scout

“If you haven’t bought a wreath yet, there’s still a ton of them in my dad’s truck.”

The secret to Christmas magic often lies in what you don’t know.

Cases in point: The Scouts of Troop 303, caroling mightily for the last-minute shoppers in Salvation Point.

They fill the air with God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen and Silent Night and Oh Little Town of Bethlehem, and every few songs there’s a commercial break: “If you haven’t bought a wreath yet, there’s still a ton of them in my dad’s truck.”

Salvation Point is a small town and the Fighting Three-oh-Third has mustered just three wise guys tonight. One’s in second grade, one’s in seventh, and the tall one is a senior in high school.

Three case studies in the magic of what you don’t know.

Christmas magic is easy for the second grader. Santa Claus is still totally real and is totally going to bring a PlayStation 4. What he doesn’t know is Dad bought the thing weeks ago and has been sneaking it out late at night. When they face off on Christmas morning, the old man will for once have the upper hand in electronic gaming.

For the seventh grader, it’s Christmas magic that makes his otherwise too-cool older cousin don a Santa hat and play the part of jolly elf, loading Christmas trees onto SUVs and tying them down with a smile and warm holiday wishes. What he doesn’t know is the tips are good, and cousin’s desperately fighting his way out from under a $28,000 Visa balance.

The senior’s got a small box of Christmas magic in his dresser drawer – a pretty expensive necklace and earrings for Samantha. He figures she’ll cry when she opens them and she’ll know he’s serious even though they’re both leaving for college next fall. They’ve been going out since homecoming, but what he doesn’t know is she’s got plans for New Year’s Eve and they don’t include him.

Three fragile Christmases made magic by what they don’t know.

The trouble is, once they do know, the magic is gone.

This has been a year of error and loss in my house. My holiday spirit is less Gene Autry (Here Comes Santa Claus) and more Merle Haggard (If We Make It Through December). What I don’t know is deep and wide, but that’s not making for much magic.

So I’m sticking with what I do know:

“For unto you is born this day in the City of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord.”

It’s not the kind of magic that necessarily makes for twinkling memories ’round the tree. To some it’s no more real than Santa Claus. But to the Christian it is a hope that brings peace in every circumstance. The knowledge of Christmas – the light and life of the risen Savior – is cause to celebrate even when we don’t feel like it.

Christmas is Merry, whether we know it or not.

May your Christmas be joyous, and your New Year bright.

Thankful for the Much and the Little

“Welcome to the FC & FL kid.” The veteran with the seniority to get four days off clocks out and slaps the youngster who just clocked in on the back. “Days like this I used call it the FU & F ME.”

It’s late on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving, and the gap between the Haves and Have Nots is apparent in the yard office.

heap

“The kids roll up in sorry heaps…”

The old heads trickle out to the lot where they jump in shiny new pickups and head home to turkey and football and family. The kids roll up in sorry heaps or on foot and lean their shoulders into a long weekend working.

The old guys have earned it, the young guys will get there, and I’m not sure which side I’m on.

“Grant me neither poverty nor riches, but only my daily bread.” That’s Proverbs, which goes on to say that having too much makes us forget where good gifts come from. Too little makes us do desperate things and dishonor God.

Ain’t that the truth.

Some of these old guys get a little smug. Sure they’ve put in the time and worked hard, and the good pay and plum shifts are just desserts. But to talk to them you’d think they built the railroad single-handedly, never asked a dumb question, and did the work of ten men every day. They’ve forgotten the little bits of charity we all need to get along.

Some of the young guys get a little too hungry, though. They see the new truck and envy that and the nice house and the four-day weekend. They feel entitled to those things but haven’t earned them yet, and sometimes that leads to a toxic attitude or worse they shirk their duties, cheat and steal. They’ve yet to learn how to be content in their circumstances.

I’m always refreshed by people in the middle – people who have their daily bread without much more or much less. It keeps them connected and charitable to those who need a little, and keeps them willing to put in the time and effort to earn their way.

That’s a good place for all of us to shoot for.

At Thanksgiving we count our blessings and thank God for all we have. This year, I’m thankful for a little leanness, too.