Earlier this year, I finally got my chance to go back home to North Carolina. Can I even describe how intense those words are to write? I have written bits and pieces of my life before college and Nathan and kids. Seems like a different world – a dream! Let me just say, it wasn’t all bad. In fact, every time I get to visit “home,” God opens my eyes to another “good” that was.
But…it wasn’t all good either. It’s then, though, when I recall the hard, the bad, the ugly…it’s then, in the mire and ashes of what was, that God gives me eyes to see…His glory, His redemption, the good.
I got to go home…and was back in my Colorado home all within 24 hours. I don’t know that you call that a trip. Yet, God made the day stand still for Joshua, and I believe, sometimes, He does that to our days, too. My Granny Barbara had died – my Dad’s mom. It’s interesting, I can’t seem to think of her without thinking of my Great-Grandparents – her parents – too. Grandparents…in my life they were God’s gift of security, love, and childhood. Nowhere else was I able to just be “my age.” They gave me that, and as a parent, now, who is trying to guard her own children’s “childhood,” it is a gift I treasure more and more!
I sat in airports and on planes trying to write what I would speak at her service. My Dad and I would speak. I still feel the honor of that…overwhelming…wish I had words to describe, but I don’t. I hugged uncles and aunts I hadn’t seen in years, gave my new step-mom a hug. (So thankful for her and her presence there that weekend!) I gave smiles and hugs to cousins who either hadn’t seen me for a long time or not at all. We are a family scattered on my Dad’s side, and that is a loaded statement that means far more than distance across a country. I sat next to my Uncle Alan that day…holding his hand tightly. He’s the one that left when he was a boy to go live with his Dad in Massachusetts. How do you come home? How do you return to the pain and hurt that you thought you could leave forever…forget forever? Death does that. Death will always draw us back home – back to those we walked through good and tough times with. Death brings us back together – even Jesus’ disciples experienced that. Hadn’t they scattered the night of the Messiah’s arrest? Yet, within hours of his death on the cross, weren’t they all gathered together in a room? Yes, death brings us back together. All our broken selves, all our horrid pasts, all our messed up nows – we bring them together, and somehow, in the midst of the broken, horrid, and messy we find…good. That’s what happened the evening after Granny’s service.
Dad spoke wonderfully, as a former college-actor does. I stumbled to even read the notes on my page. Amazing Grace…My Chains Are Gone was sung. Tears fell slowly for some and rapidly for others. We stood in line to receive handshakes and well-wishes and hugs. And then, eventually, we went back to my Aunt and Uncle’s house – my Great Grandparent’s house. The house where both my Dad and I had known childhood. Where he and I both found what every other place stole from us. It is nothing fancy – not even a porch! And yet, I love it! It thrills me more than I can express that I can still go back to that house. I can walk up to the tree I used to hang on. I can walk in the carport – not garage – and open that squeaky screen door and I can walk into that kitchen that still smells of burnt bacon and friend eggs to me. I can see that table in the dining room and still imagine my Granddaddy sitting there in the evenings with a big bowl of milk, ritz crackers with peanut butter, and Wheaties. I can turn the corner, and though it has been recovered, I can still sit on the couch and chair that has been there since even Dad can remember. I can go into the bathroom with that blue tile, and I can remember taking baths til I was a prune! I can remember days and evenings sitting in their den watching show after show. I can remember – and it is good. A brick, dated, ranch home, with a yard that wraps all the way around it – my mansion! As a child, my heaven!
That evening we ate lasagna and cheese cake, as any good Italian family does. Then, we gathered in that living room, and brought out the memories from boxes. Gifts are always opened. These pictures – these were the original “instagrams!” It’s amazing how a life gets summed up in a shoebox full of pictures. She was beautiful, my Grandmother. But she didn’t know it. Not really. She chose a hard way to live. She went from one hard relationship to another, never seeming to want to get out enough to actually “get out.” She had been adopted by my Grandparents…as my Dad had been adopted by his Dad…as my Mom had been adopted by her Dad. Adoption, it does interesting things to us. We have this “new life”, this “new chance” to live better…to come from better…to make oneself better; yet, so many choose to go back to their roots – to where they came from. It seems that though they have been given the hope of a new life, many choose to yield to the pull of the life that was suppose to be theirs. It has a hold on them, one that they don’t even understand, and somehow, they just want to relate to the person(s) who gave them their first life. Maybe it’s because they want to know they mattered, and so, they leave the new for the old in order to find a relationship that had been given away. I really don’t know, physically, the reasons; all I have to relate is the spiritual. I am adopted, as are all those who choose to claim Christ as Savior. I am an adopted daughter of the King of Kings and Lord of Lords! Yet, I, at times, choose to turn from the new self to return to the old self. There is an unmistakeable pull…to try and find comfort in the way things were…should have been. Can I just say, for the record, it never fulfills the void. I think it might because wouldn’t that make me whole – to connect with my “true beginnings?” But what I find, is that what was broken is still broken, and when God came to adopt me as His own, He knew the only way to make me whole was to take me out of the brokenness of the Sinner’s life. He knew I would wonder about it and even try to reconcile the new with the old. He knew, and He is always there to pick me back up and take me home. He knew then and knows now that there is no reconciling the new with the old – wineskins will burst! A life will burst and fall a part like that. But what He also knew and still knows is this: the old can be Redeemed into the new. There is no bringing side-by-side the sinful life and the hopeful one; there is only the death of the old one, redeemed by – given new life by – the new one.
My Grandmother, she just spent a lot of time trying to hold it all together. When marriages fell apart, she tried to hold her boys together. When homes became messy, she tried to pick it all up. When sons became broken and scattered, she tried to hold them together through phone calls and framed photos and Thanksgiving dinners and…by holding a door open to their children. Me, included.
In that living room late that night, we were together. We were looking at our pasts, trying to understand our present, and maybe pondering what our futures would be. Would we ever all be together again? How would we hold on to each other now that the one who held on to us all was gone? How would my Dad and my Uncles see themselves? See their days? See their families? See their Creator? See their Savior? That weekend I held tight to family that knew Hope and to family that wondered about it. My heart has hurt, my stomach has lurched, my eyes have teared over them. It’s really just another one of His miracles! The very mess and brokenness I quickly ran away from, is the very mess and brokenness I want to hold on to for all eternity! I want them with me! I want them to know joy and peace and…REDEEMED days! When I spoke at Granny Barbara’s memorial, I said that, “This I know, God wastes nothing. He redeems the days!” (Past days included!) I believe it; I absolutely do! I want Dad and Uncles and Aunts and Cousins to know it! To believe it! To live it!
Redeemed days only come from a redeemed life. A redeemed life only comes from a Redeemer and from living out your days in a redeemed way. How? How do you take the “abuse” of a past and call it “redeemed” – the only way I know is this: You look straight into the mess, you dig into the dirt with your hands, and you find…Him. You don’t stop looking, seeking, searching until you find Him – until you see that He was there. And though He didn’t stop the mess, the hard, the abuse, He stayed in it with you. He never left. He held it all together – us all together – more than we will ever know. Then, you open your mouth and the lid of the pen, and you claim Christ for those days and the days you are in now. You say the very words Satan tried to take away back in the Eden…”Thank you!” “Thank you!” for all I had, for all I didn’t, for all I now have, for all I don’t! ALL. The storms and the Autumn days. The smiles and the overwhelming tears. The shame and the restoration. The hard or maybe even wrong decisions of a Mother or Grandmother and the love of the same.
You give thanks, and you accept that you aren’t required to give anything else to make up for days that are gone. He alone holds those days, and you let Him! And then you let Him do what she longed to do all along…hold YOU all together.
“Let the Redeemed of the Lord say so…I’m redeemed, I’m redeemed, Praise the Lord!”