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On the Porch

This morning I felt Your presence.
You called me out to the porch.
“Come,
Sit with me a while.”
I poured some coffee,
Grabbed my Bible and notebook,
Arranged my blanket
Then (finally) sat down.
Deep breath.
No music. No reading. No praying.
Just us . . . being.
Like two old friends
Comfortable in the silence
With only the creak of our chairs
As we gently rock.
We don’t have to say a word.

The warm rays of the rising sun
Touch my face like an inviting caress.
I stand
And spread my arms wide.
As You shine on me,
I remember how You have told me
To shine!
I welcome You to touch me
And You do.
Your light is like a gentle kiss, then grows bright
Like a wide smile of pleasure.
You love me!
I feel this for the first time
In a long while,
And I am in love with You.

Almost

We all do stupid things
Or almost do
Almost all
Almost stupid.

It’s the almost that takes our breath away.
And we shudder to think
What almost was.
Like stepping off the curb,
Not seeing the bus
That rumbles toward us.
Something big
Ready to destroy
Finally gets our attention like nothing else.
Startled,
We leap back and
Exhale relief.

You and I,
We almost.
Destruction passed by after fair warning.
Now you go your way
While I stay in mine.
We exhale relief
At the almost that never was.

“Your sins are forgiven”
He said to me.
I hadn’t even asked for that.
You see,
It never even occurred to me.
I only wanted
To be accepted
To be healed
To see what all the excitement was about.
But forgiveness?
No.
Not for me.
I’m too sinful
Too dirty.
“You are already clean . . .”
Me? Why?
“. . . because I said so.”

I sit back
And let it sink in.

I take up my mat
Pick up my pitcher
Take off my bandages
Toss out my crutches
And run to invite everyone I know
To come
And hear my gospel story.

Memory Keeper

I sit beside her on the couch,
Flipping through photo albums
That are her handiwork,
Our family’s memory keeper.
The albums tell stories
That make us smile and laugh
And maybe cry a little.

Black and white pictures –
At the lake with a big catch
Digging through a record snow
A long-forgotten party game –
Stories told to me through the years
About people I will never know.
She smiles through every retelling.

Poloroids of my life
Where my childhood intersects
With cousins, uncles, aunts.
Vacations together
Amusements parks and fireworks
Lazy summer days
Cozy winter nights.
Each image revives an entire day for me.
I can smell the roast in the oven,
The Christmas cookies,
The Easter ham,
The Labor Day burgers
The men burned on the grill.
I can hear the laughter and the bickering.
I can feel the love
All the love
Because she recorded it for us
In these albums.

Now
I remind her.
I tell her stories she already knows
Deep down
But that her mind will no longer let her grasp
And hold.
I hold them for her.
I open them up before her
So she can smile and laugh
And maybe cry a little.

Random Act

Mark and I were just finishing our quick shopping trip and making our way to one of the express lanes at the grocery store, when I noticed her. A young African-American woman in the next line with half a cartload of groceries, waiting her turn. Clearly more than twenty items! Usually, I would think to myself (or even whisper to Mark) on the rudeness of sliding through the express lane with such a huge load of cargo. But that day, I didn’t see a rude woman; I saw a tired woman. Someone in a hurry to just get home for the day.

As we began to place our items on the counter, I glanced back at the woman. She had two young children beside her, and a baby on her hip. Her face was expressionless, but her eyes spoke of the raw fatigue that she must slog through every day. I have known those times myself, and my heart broke for her.

I felt a nudge inside me, a command. One that I couldn’t push aside. “Mark, I want to pay for her groceries.” Mark turned toward her slowly, then turned back to look me in the eyes. “I’m serious,” I said. He asked if she had started her transaction, and when I said she hadn’t, he handed me our debit card.

I was so excited. For about two seconds. Then I was nervous. My heart felt like it would pound out of my chest! I began to second-guess myself. I began to ask why on earth I was doing this!

Then I worried about the mother. What if I embarrassed her? What if I offended her? What if she thought I was trying to make some statement? I mean, some random white lady is going to buy her groceries for her? Oh. I began to imagine the scene – her protesting her offense, me trying my best to apologize. I nearly panicked. And just as I was about to call this whole plan off, another child – a young girl of about twelve — approached the mother, lifted the baby from her hip, and placed the baby on her own hip. Mama’s little helper. She looked weary, too.

Well, that did it. I was all in.

When the mother was busy placing her items on the counter, I sidled up to the cashier and said, “Miss, I don’t know this next customer of yours, and I’m not sure why I’m doing this, but I want to pay for her groceries. May I do that?” The young gal said, “Um, yeah. Sure.” She let a tiny grin spread through the confused look on her face and proceeded to scan the grocery items.

I stepped back and waited, wondering how this would all play out. I decided that the smoothest way to do this would be to quietly keep the mother from being able to pay. I stepped up to the credit card machine in front of the cashier, asked if I could swipe my card right now. “Sure,” she said. The mother never t even noticed me!

The last item to be scanned was a single pack of M&M’s that I guessed would be shared among the three children. When the cashier had placed the last item in the bag, the mother reached into her wallet to pay. That’s when I stepped back up to the counter to sign for my credit card payment. With a quick glance at her, I said, “Actually, I’ve got this.” Beside me, I heard her ask quietly, “Wait … what? Um … what?” The cashier handed me my receipt, and I turned to the mother and said, “I was told to pay for your groceries today.” Her mind was still catching up to what was happening, and her look of confusion changed to the most lovely smile. “That’s so sweet! You’re so sweet!” Then, as if she didn’t know what else to do, she carefully approached me for a hug. I readily accepted, and we just clung to each other for a moment.

When I stepped back, I told her to be blessed today. “You, too,” she said. I turned to walk away, and realized I had the receipt. “Do you need this? You know, in case you have to return something.”

“Oh, no … I don’t need a thing!” She beamed at me. She looked like a different person.

I turned and left, and nearly danced out of the store.

Mark was waiting for me and had enjoyed watching the whole thing. He saw things that I didn’t – the faces of the children and the cashier. The mother embracing me. The look on my face. And he reminded me that my simple gesture could bless more than just that mother. The cashier would surely tell that story. The mother, too, would share what happened.

We were both reminded that day of what can happen if we take the time to look at people not with our eyes but with our hearts. Instead of a rude customer in the express lane, we can see a tired mother. Instead of our own tight budget, we can see the needs of others and simple ways to meet those needs. Instead of differences between us, we can see how we’re all alike in some way. And if we act on what we see, we can touch the world from our own neighborhood.

Inspiration

Sometimes the words swirl above me
All dark, muddled confusion
Until suddenly
A sentence
A thought
The right word rings out clear
Pulling itself from the cloud
And making its way to my page.

Coming Home (I)

Here
Above the clouds
I am surrounded by a sky
As blue as the lakes I have missed.
Checkerboards of green
So fresh
From a winter’s worth of melted snow.
I can already feel
The breeze from the prairie
Stirring a field of young corn
Row after row
In rich, dark soil.
The ground rushes up to meet me
And I am home.