Tuesday, December 08, 2009

snow covered and pulling a heavy wagon

this is a photograph. a photograph that i snapped one thanksgiving when the snow, a rarity in my city, showed it's face at my parents' house. this photograph was chosen for a 2010 calendar that circulates locally, and most recently, it was chosen as part of a little art show too. it was truly a picture that i took in a quick moment as my mom was yelling through the kitchen for me to shut the door, and my bare feet refused to step out into the snow. i didn't realize in that rushed minute, i captured something much deeper.

the red wagon is a child's toy. little boys fill them with dirt. little girls fill them with dolls. parents fill them with their children in an attempt to avoid carrying their sleeping bodies ten blocks home after late night fireworks.

this particular red wagon never got to be a child's toy. it didn't hold dirt or dolls or sleeping children. instead, it held gallons of milk, boxes of cereal, and other meal supplies as the nine-year-old hands gripped the handle and tugged it up the hill toward home. the wagon never got to be a child's toy, in truth, because the nine-year-old had to stop being a child.

the red wagon, rust-covered and missing a wheel, sits semi-forgotten in the corner of the porch. it has become a symbol of sadness, and this photo a bittersweet reminder of a life once lived. despite it's blemishes, someone deemed the wagon good enough to hold overflowing pots of fire red mums. someone decided that it was worthy enough to be placed next to the orange roundness of new pumpkins. someone decided that it still had life and was worthy of beauty.

nineteen years later, the once nine-year-old has realized that she is not much different than the wagon, full of rust and missing parts. nineteen years later, the once nine-year-old has realized that even though she isn't deserving, she has been offered a grace that covers the rust in a new layer of beautiful red paint. she realizes that there is a power in the death of one man, and that in that death, she was given an incredibly beautiful life. a life worthy of fire red mums and perfectly shaped pumpkins.

when i took this picture, it didn't occur to me that there was no logical reason that the mums should still be fire red beneath the snow. there was no great explanation for why the pumpkins had yet to rot in the winter air. both retained their color, their life despite the frigid temperatures and precipitation that beat down upon them.

there is this really cool thing about following jesus called life that comes through walking in the gospel of grace. it's a life that can survive the pounding snow and ice. it's a life that manifests itself in the beauty of smiles and kind eyes. a life that prevails when death is present.

nineteen years later, the once nine-year-old is realizing that this life has made her beautiful. she's seeing that without this man named jesus she may not have survived being a nine-year-old. she's understanding that being a nine-year-old with a wagon not used as a toy has paved a life of truly relating, to knowing the souls, of those less known. nineteen years later, the once nine-year-old only hopes that this life given to her brings life to others in moments when they are covered in snow and pulling a heavy wagon up the hill.

nineteen years later, the once nine-year-old wouldn't trade one moment for another.

"for it is by grace you have been saved, through faith-and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of god-not by works, so that no one can boast. for we are god's handiwork, created in christ jesus to do good works, which god prepared in advance for us to do." ephesians 2: 8-10

Thursday, December 03, 2009

tucking the covers around the broken-hearted children

a mother is supposed to be a safe place. her arms are supposed to be protective; nuturing. her voice and words soothing in times filled with fear; her presence bringing confidence in times of doubt. every mother fails at some point, at multiple points even, but there is the mother that chooses not to feed or clothe her child. the mother whose hand becomes something that makes a child flinch. the mother whose words are the cause of fear and doubt. becoming a mother is one of the things i most look forward to in this life. honestly, it is the restoration, the redeeming, of the concept of mother to the neglected "little ones" that makes my heart beat wildly.

as i approach the day that officially makes me a year older, i find myself in the midst of a lot of contemplation of life; where i've been; where i thought i would be; where i might be headed. year after year i ask "when, lord?" the answer is often silence to be followed or surrounded by instances the prove he's not saying "no", but rather "not yet."

about a month ago i started asking the question again, and the silence prevailed. initially discouragement began to find it's way into my heart, but then i made an unexpected new friend. i don't know all of his stories, but i know enough to know that he probably quite desperately needed the concept of mother redeemed as a child. his stories are not mine to tell, but i can say that i stand amazed at what he has come through and how it is evident that god was protecting him in every moment, even when the adults in his life were not. every now and then he tells a little story from his past, usually to make a point about the power of the gospel in our lives. the stories are often short, but in the few minutes it takes to tell them, i feel the urgent need to be a source of hope and love.

i love to sing; especially when i am alone and can sing from that place deep within that holds secret desires and tears and words yet to come. in the brief moments my sister graciously lets me have with my nephew before his bedtime, he often asks me to sing to him. there's something about singing a lullaby to a child that feels protective, soothing, loving, hopeful.

last week, i spent a five hour car ride listening to the same album over and over. it was an album new to me, and immediately i was drawn in by a desire to know the words and the melodies. last night, after hearing another of my new friend's childhood stories, i was sorting through the mixture of sadness, marvel at god's goodness and grace, and a little frustration when one of the songs from this album came over my speakers.

the artist is singing from the perspective of god to us (i think), but it really feels like something a mother might sing to a young child as she tenderly tucks the quilt under the child's chin. i'm pretty certain that my new friend, much like the kids i will one day bring into my home, did not have a mother that sang this kind of life and hope over him. yet somehow he became a man truly seeking to be like jesus. what we forget, what i forget, is that god is really the one singing life over these children. god sang life over my new friend as a child, even though my new friend didn't hear, couldn't hear.

he's singing over the child right now that is being neglected by the mother in his life; as she is being lost in a system defined by numbers; as he is trading bicycles for jackets and eating food off the ground out of fear it will be his only nourishment for the day. i am honored that god has seen me fit enough to place the desire in my heart to bring life back to these children. someday i will get to sing his song over them too, as i tuck the covers around the broken-hearted little one.

here's the song on youtube. ignore the video. just listen to the words.
jj heller. keep you safe.