Friday, September 21

Bite the Hand

The chill of early autumn is settling in for the night, and a yappy, frightened, wee mite of a dog is huddled outside underneath our neighbor's car. I've tried to draw him out. My own dogs have attempted to woo him (only to be snapped at). Even my husband has been down on all fours, treat in hand, murmuring reassurances, only to have the little fuzz ball shriek his doggy disapproval.

And he reminds me of me. Of us.

It's cold out there and I can offer him shelter for the night; a warm, safe, out-of-the-traffic place to sleep until morning. In the morning, I could track down his master or get him to someone more qualified to do so.

But he doesn't want anything to do with a rescue. He's decided that the little red car is his safest option and he's not leaving her. Meanwhile, it's 11:30 at night, and he's out in the autumn cool intermittently yelping his plea for aid when help is already at hand.

I think I can relate. We get separated from our Master and start our it-seemed-like-a-good-idea-at-the-time wandering, only to find that we can't find our way back home. Our Master, being the responsible caregiver that He is, sends out a rescue party. But we want nothing to do with them.

They don't look anyone we want to accept counsel or guidance from. We snub their offerings of direction and shelter, choosing rather to settle into our ill-found shelter. A fateful relationship, a nebulous job, a killing addiction.

We tell ourselves that at least the little red car is a sure thing. It's afforded some protection from the rush of traffic. It's near a street light. Relative to the uncertainty of responding to the Master's rescue crew, it seems the better choice.

But it's going to be a long, chilly night for that teeny pooch. He could save himself nine hours of hardship if he'd take a chance on taking up my offer of aid.

He doesn't want a rescue.
I'm going to go try again anyway.
And I hope that when I'm snipping at the helping hands my Master sends my way that they'll be persistent and patient, promises of comfort at the ready. I hope I'll follow them to safety.

Thursday, September 20


Last night I stayed up until 2:30 in the morning because I needed to see how the old black and white movie I was watching would end. The movie was nothing remarkable, but it's opening line (which began its' enticing work somewhere around midnight) gripped me ("Last night I had a dream that I was once again at Manderley, but no one will ever go to Manderley again...") and there was just enough mystery woven into the plot to persuade me to stick it out.

Until 2:30 in the morning.
That is an inappropriate hour for a wife and mother.
But it had to be done.

Because I need to know how the story ends.

Tonight, our family, crowded around that same t.v., was jolted from our stupor when our youngest son suddenly said, "Mom! Stop it right there! I've never seen the end of this commercial!" And the mute button was released so that we would be privy to how, exactly, the frozen food advert would complete the story of the oh-so-sedate housewife embroiled in her dinner dilemma.

We subjected ourselves to thirty seconds of processed food info. Why? Because we need to know how the story ends.

But in this mysterious and unplottable out-on-the-waves row we call "faith" there are so many stories that are left dangling. Urban encounters, brief and unfinished, with stories just begun and plots half-done.

It takes faith to acknowledge that the chance encounters with a young mom, a business man, the parent of a former client, or the blond stranger I secretly call Hercules (because that's who he looks like...except that he's lost and powerless and, obviously, lacking a centaur) are meaningful and within the realm of God's interest.

Take Hercules, for example. I have crossed paths with him, I think, three times ~ maybe four. There is no reason why our worlds should collide. He is young (twenty-something) and on the go doing, presumably, twenty-year-old things. I'm a mom, travelling in mom-ish circles. Circles where strangers are privately identified by their resemblance to cartoon characters.

Herc and I have never spoken. The first time I saw him (along a walking path in a nearby neighborhood) I was moved by...what? Compassion? Disarmed by his vulnerability, I prayed for him intently that day; he, I was sure, had captured the imagination of his Maker. I prayed about his search for meaning, his fears, his sense of belonging, his mental health. I prayed for a lot of things.

The next time I saw him I was out walking with friends. The girls and I were focused and purposeful. We were out for exercise and our attentions were taken up with each other. I noted that he was across the street, said a quick "Hey! Lord, there's that guy again," or something equally profound.

And then, weeks later, we brushed past each other at the local coffee shop. Again, I was in the company of friends and could not stop to talk with him, but this time we actually physically bumped into each other.

I have never heard his voice. I don't think he has ever seen, or taken notice, of me. But, by chance, Hercules has been at the heart of several floating encounters.

What is my role in his life? I could be dismissive...if I really thought that chance was behind these passing moments. I could be forthright, getting his attention by striking up conversation, "So. Uh. You don't know me, but did anyone ever tell you that you look like a Master of the Universe?" I could pray. That'd be smart. Productive.

That may be all that I ever do for that tow-headed young man. I may never hear any of his story ~ even if I stay up well past bedtime or unmute the walk-by non-meetings. That may not be my role in his life. But I think I am meant to play a role. Because he's there. And I'm here. I know the God who made him. The God who loves him.

Tonight, I'm going to be a smart and responsible mother and turn the t.v. off before I am drawn into a beginning that needs an ending! And I'll end the my own day's story with a prayer for Hercules.

Tuesday, September 11

Oswald and The River

John 7:38
Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said,
streams of living water will flow from within him.

A river touches places of which its source knows nothing...God rarely allows a soul to see how great a blessing he is. (The river) is victoriously persistent, it overcomes all barriers. It makes pathways around obstacles. It may drop out of sight for miles and presently emerge again broader and grander than ever.

If you believe in Jesus, you will find that God has nourished in you mighty torrents of blessing for others.

~Oswald Chambers, My Utmost for His Highest~

Tuesday, September 4

The Angel ~ A Floating Encounter

He is a man with stories to tell. One glance at the back of his unruly head says so. I have time to spare ~ the bank line-up is long and slow. I wait for him to turn enough to give me some excuse to strike up conversation.

Standing six-foot-something, his black T-shirt and well-worn jeans are covered in a film of what looks like fresh dirt and grassy bits. A link of keys dangles from his left hip. Chin length ash-white hair stands out raggedly, at all angles, from his aged head; his face is smothered in a tightly curled, wiry gray beard. The crowd around us is ethnically diverse and he stands out ~ a giant, white, anomaly.

I watch him tease a nearby patron's child. The child is not intimidated by his size or fearsome appearance. And then my study turns to me suddenly, looking directly into my curious gaze, and states, "They are never scared of me. They just aren't. Them and animals. The others now, they hate me. Just hate me. But not the kids and the animals."

You just never know what you're going to get in a floating encounter. There you are, just cruising down your own private river, floating with the current, letting it carry you where it will, and kersplash! You're sharing your gliding space with a different paddler then you ever could have anticipated. I was eager to hear more from that unorthodox fellow with the brook-no-argument views.

"Yeh. 'Been an angel for the past thirty years."

"An angel?" I query, voice even, while I inwardly scan any mental files that may help me interpret whatever may be coming next.

"Yup. A guardian angel. I'm a tough one. Been protectin' folks for a long, long time." Ah. There it is. He's a Guardian Angel ~ as in, civilian-red-beret-wearing-defender-of-public-safety "angel." I am mildly disappointed, thinking wistfully that a chat with a real-deal, sent-from-heaven angel in the bank line up could have made for good dinnertime conversation.

"I'm down sixty pounds right now ~ been real sick with pneumonia for six months ~ but you shoulda' seen my muscles before. 'Woulda' scared you good."

I grin, never losing eye contact. "It sounds like you're pretty tough. I'm sorry you were so sick."

"Yeah, well. I was pretty much dead, but I'm standin' here now." And he rattles through stories of tough stuff and heroism spanning the greater Alberta area, all the while professing his deep hatred for everyone. "I do. I hate all people equally."

I find this very amusing as he's talking rather animatedly to me at just that moment, and, presumably, I am one of the hated! "Yeh. You watch. You see me cross my arms like this," (he obligingly demonstrates, an unmistakable twinkle in his eye) "or jam my hands in my pockets, you know you better run."

"That'll be it then, hey?" I tease. "I'll know you've reached your breaking point then?"

"Oh yeah. But never around the animals. No way. 'Got 23 cats at home, and a dog, and a horse, and two parrots, and doves. Them doves is so in love. They're a gift to me. Just a gift to me. 'Got 'em for cheap at the Pisces Pet Emporium."

We talk more about hated humanity and adored critters before I finally interject, "I have to tell you sir, I don't see hate in you. Not a bit of it! I see kindness and humor." The laughter in his eyes never falters. He is having a good deal of fun with his audience.

"No, no, no!" He is not pleased with my assessment. "Just catch me out there on the road with one of these drivers." He makes a sweeping gesture with his arm, discriminating against not one, but multiple cultures in one arcing movement.

I am unimpressed and say, again, that I just don't see it, but he is unwavering in his determination that he is to be feared; a hated and hateful man.

Our conversation is abruptly halted by available tellers and waiting business. We go our separate ways. I finish my own transaction before his is completed and I leave him behind, leaning earnestly toward his teller, with that young man calmly saying, "No problem, sir. Let's see what we can do to work this out."

My mind reels with wondering at the wildly spun scenario that must be playing out in that small space. That teller is in for the most entertaining fifteen minutes
of his day.

Saturday, September 1

Bob Is Out of The Boat (P2)

It would be much easier to hold to my hard-won, aggrieved, and jaded opinion that People-Just-Don't-Change if I wasn't married to a man that is reinventing himself daily. A man who, for the first thirty-five years of his life felt no responsibility for the well-being of the people around him whatsoever, but who, now, is engaged, aware, and ready for ~ even looking for ~ the chance to be involved.

A walk through town with him used to be...well...a walk...through town.

No more! A walk is an opportunity. Stalled at the light? Sit tight! Bob's dodging traffic and pounding on your driver's window with offers of help before you have time to say "There's a crazy man dodging traffic. Eep! He's pounding on my driver's window!" Struggling with a load of drywall (Bob hates drywall)? Stand aside. Bob will single-handedly move it from truck to basement before you can say, "Hey, some weirdo is moving our drywall from the truck to the basement."

I'm less and less surprised by his responses to my query, "'Do anything out of the boat today, Hon?" But one particular tale caught my attention (and put further scuff marks on my fast-held insistence that People Don't Change).

It was a crowded workday morning. The train car was, as usual, jammed tight with yawning, smelly, self-focused passengers. Bob took up a standing spot by the car's folding doors. A burly, laborer shuffled in beside him ~ bald-headed and scowling.

The train car continued to fill and tension began to fill the unit when, unwittingly, a gentleman misjudged the distance between himself and his fellow passenger. That fellow passenger was Bald and Burly Laborer Guy. The rider backed up too far and nudged up against Burly. Burly was instantly angry. Face contorting into the ugliness of temper he started in on the smaller man, "WHY DON'T YOU JUST..."

The week had not been an easy one for Bob. Pressure was mounting at work and the summer has been a full one. He is a solitude-seeking, even-keel kind of guy. He could have just turned aside and let this play itself out. He could have just hoped it would blow over. He didn't. Because he is not that man any longer.

"Uh...Excuse me...I have some room here. I'll just back up so everyone has more space."

Simple. Enough.

Burly stills immediately, quitting his freshly launched verbal offensive on the spot. "Oh. Okay. Thanks."

"No problem." The smaller gentleman and his wife visibly relax.

And conversation begins. Burly is a hard working man and, like so many others in this city, came here looking for a good living and better prospects. He's got a lot on his mind and he tells Bob the bits of his story that their short and often-interrupted commute allows for.

The offending passenger and his wife are the first to exit the train, and he and Burly leave each other with a handshake and a "Good day." Bob and his new acquaintance eventually part ways with Burly apologizing for his quick temper. "No problem," is Bob's goodbye.

And it is enough.

Blessed are the peacemakers...

'Still Got It ~ A Floating Encounter

Out of the corner of my eye I glimpse him working his wheelchair across a muddy patch of thinned grass. He is purposeful in his progress toward me and my party. With some effort he guides his chair, feet scooching one in front of the other, to where we're sitting near the lodge's freshly cut front lawn.

He catches my eye with his one good one and smirks, "I talk too much, but this story's gonna' make you laugh like the devil!"

And it did. As did the dozen-or-so following: stories of daring-do in the second World War. Stories of prairie born mischief and a dead wife ("Twenty years ago that was! I found her dead in the bed!" I attempted a commiserative "Oh, I'm sorry..." but was brushed off with a brusk, "No, no!" and a quick segway into yet another tale.). Stories of dinners of beets and rotten pork ("You never did see such a mess as that!") and practical jokes on nosey neighbors.

"But, I talk too much," he'd wink between bits.

And, obviously, he did not. He could not talk "too much." While it took effort to attend closely to him and to look beyond the frightful shave job someone (he?) had attempted on his patchy, stubbly face that morning, and the lunch on his chin, and the milky haze of his wandering eye, that effort paid off with many devilish laughs.

His were stories worth listening to. "Ninety years old, I am! Yup. Ninety." I'm impressed with his longevity and say so. "No, no!" he quickly blurts, changing the subject to the Harvard Step Test and the absence of love lost between airforce men and the navy. He was, he jokes, a little worried that at ninety he might be losing his sex appeal, but he's quite sure that's not true.

I am transfixed by Alec and could sit with him, happily, for as long as he wished to story tell. But the sun is hot and my mixed company of the aged and the very young is losing interest. I suggest that perhaps it's time to get in out of the sun. My companions are quick to agree, wondering why I delayed so long in ending this conversation.

I turn to Alec for a thank you and a goodbye.

"No, no," he quips. "I talk too much anyway, but I did make you laugh like the devil."