Sunday, March 11, 2007

Texas night

Our family was invited to a fundraiser at a small, old church attended by one of Fred's co-workers. The co-worker plays in a band that would be performing, and we would get to enjoy an all-you-can-eat chili cook-off. Admittedly, I rode to the church with Fred and the girls with an attitude of, "I can tolerate this for a few hours." I was far from excited or even interested.

We drove out of our suburban neighborhood into a much more rural area so I wasn't surprised to find country folk staring curiously at our little family when we walked into their church. The fellowship hall was decorated in a wild west theme and we lined up to accept our bowls of chili, nacho chips, and home-baked desserts, and then sat down with Fred's friends. The chili was surprisingly good, but I settled in for what I thought would be mindless small talk and amateurish entertainment. God forgive me.

The band members, about eight men and women in their fifties and sixties with a couple of younger ones thrown in the mix, gave a disclaimer at the start of their show. They normally do not play country-western or rock music but had practiced for several weeks for this event. The money raised from their Texas Night would support a youth mission trip. This musical group normally plays contemporary worship music on Sunday mornings. I gave them credit for their efforts in working hard to bring this event together. I decided to sit back, listen, and learn from these kind people.

The band started with "Long Tall Texan" to get everyone in the mood. It reminded me of our time in Mustang, Oklahoma and the Bean Suppers cooked by the local firemen on the 4th of July. We would listen to live music broadcast over loud speakers so all the people in the park could enjoy it while they ate their beans and and waited for the fireworks. I could have stayed forever in Oklahoma. That simple life suited me perfectly. As the music played, I thought back to those days when my boys were little, days as wide and endless as the rim of the earth that you can see in every direction under the vast, cloudless sky.

Next the band played "Proud Mary." I was transported back to 1969 and the Mississippi River Festivals of my teenage days, lying in the grass with thousands of other kids, listening to the classic rock bands belting out the cries of our generation. I noticed these band members here tonight seemed to really get into this music. They rattled and rolled and sang with enthusiasm and maybe even with a faraway look in their eyes. As they continued to play, each song evoked old memories that began a slide show in my mind. Amazingly, I was having fun, sharing a moment with these fellow old-timers.

Toward the end of the set the gray-haired lead guitarist came down from the stage and churned his arms in time to "Locomotion." Yes, he was inviting us to follow. Old folks, little ones, parents and teens, linked arms to waists and strutted around the fellowship hall in time to the music, laughing all the time. Our train wove in and out of corridors, into the kitchen, back and forth and around again to the hall. The girls were delighted to see Mom and Dad acting so silly. They were equally thrilled to see us slow dance to Eric Clapton's "You Look Wonderful Tonight." All my years have culminated in this place, secure in the arms of my one true love.

I watched the band the rest of the night with new respect. Each of us has traveled a long journey. Life has been good, sad, tragic and wonderful. It doesn't matter where we've been. It's where we are now that counts. But in part, the past made us who we are today. The old rockers now sing praise songs. The secrets of life, hidden from view when I was younger, have been unveiled. Relationships fail, children grow up, parents die, and God is always there to pull us up out of the muck and mire of foolish choices. The journey begins slow and steady but as we near the end it gains momentum until we are racing at breakneck speed, all the while trying desperately to slow down. All along the way, God surprises us with gifts of joy. Life is rich and full and precious because of its brevity.

"There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven, a time to be born and a time to die...God has made everything beautiful in its time. Ecclesiastes 3.

Friday, March 02, 2007

Touching the mountain

I read a story about people with dying brains. Painters can paint spectacular pictures and writers can write with unusual clarity. Not that my brain is necessarily dying, but my memories are becoming sharper the older I get. They haunt me in the dark, sleepless hours as I try to make sense of them.
My dad said, "I bet you can't touch that mountain." Of course I could. The massive rock jutted up vertically from the flat desert floor. I ran fast toward it, arms outstretched to touch its stone face warmed by the hot sun. But it seemed I was running in place. The mountain loomed huge in front of me, yet it stayed just inches away, taunting me. I ran faster and faster and then looked back at my dad, tiny now so far away. But the mountain got no closer. I didn't understand, and my dad was laughing at me.
It must have been a trick of light and landscape I still don't understand, but some mountains in southern Arizona do look close enough to touch. Still, they are so far away a child by herself could never run to reach them. I often think of that incident. Images of my childhood surface at unexpected times. The wildness of the desert was always frightening to me. Cactus threatened every step. Rattlesnakes lurked under every rock. The scorching sun itself could kill you. Once my dad left me alone in a sandy gully while he tracked some javelinas. I heard the furtive scurrying of the creatures that surrounded me and I waited fearfully for his return. Was the desert really so scary and uncertain, or was it life itself?
I think I remember trying to run to the mountain because I had been tricked. Over a lifetime my dad showed me I would never touch the mountain--not any mountain. He made me know I was a foolish, useless child. My dad has been gone for 20 years now. I've forgiven him, I think. But how do you really know when memories come unbidden and startling, as you re-live events from the long ago?
Healing has come in slow measures because of another Father who has never left me alone. Because of Him, I've touched many mountains, even His holy mountain. "...forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead, I press on..." (Philippians 3:13, 14.) Maybe forgetting once and for all means wrestling with the memories and finding purpose in the past.