the sun-bronzed, curly-haired boy sits slumped against the neck of his chair and nods at me as I pass in my silver car. I am not driving one of the large trucks charting boats into the park and thus, he has no reason for stopping me. Parked parallel to him sits a red mini van (perhaps his mother’s mini van because he doesn’t own car yet?). Maybe he’s saving up the money he earns from sitting and waiting for boats. Maybe he will find a rusted-over, belly-almost-touching-the-highway kind of beast to call his own. He’d be one of those kids that christens their first car with a bottle of fizzy water and names it “Chuck”.
He just seems like that type. But what do I know?
The air is sticky and wet and cries of molasses syrup and cold and clammy fish. Not what you would call the world’s most fabulous weather, but it sure beats -15 degrees with windchill. The air and sky feels like it’s holding something back; like a child holding a wet stick behind its back as a wildly ecstatic puppy waits with drooling lips and eager eyes.
I am walking in this wet fish weather, rather, I am running in it because it’s the thing to do, and beyond that, I am working on discipline because I am a poorly disciplined individual, and thus, runs in the wet, sticky hot weather are good for my overall mental and spiritual fortitude.
I read something recently that got me thinking. It was Gilead by Marilynne Robinson. In it, there is this old preacher nearing the end of his life and he is writing his life story to his son. Reverend Ames, as his name is, encounters the son of his best friend; a man with a wild past, a forbidden marriage, a myriad of regrets and a soul looking for rest. Reverend Ames contrasts that man’s life with his own; a relatively crisped and buttoned-down one, with no burning bushes or pirating adventures or chaotic firestorms.
“I myself was the good son, so to speak, the one who never left his father’s house – even when his father did, a fact which surely puts my credentials beyond all challenge. I am one of those righteous for whom the rejoicing in heaven will be comparatively restrained. And that’s all right.”
I think of all of heaven dancing and shouting over a hollowed out soul whose life has been pure battle and fight and sweat against a holy God. This holy God intervened and took hold of this old snarly soul, and so he comes into heaven of his own free will, only because God has made his will this way. This hollowed-out soul is the prodigal we always read about. Reverend Ames and I….are we the older brother or another son whose father has gathered home, yet who has escaped much of the heartache of the younger brother? I grew up in a world where the bible was frequent and familiar; where my father’s generation was the one with the burning bush stories. I looked up and at them with wonder and asked why my own story didn’t read like theirs.
We are all fools though. We are all ravaged and raging for something beyond the hills. We ought to be spellbound that we too have a name in a book in heaven, for we too have been washed clean.
I’ve wished before that my story looked more like Mary Magdalene’s or Rahab’s. Not because I wanted to be them, but I wanted their story. I want a glorious redemption that is stark and loud like the cold water you pour over a hot pan; it sizzles and spits back at you, but in the end, it calms and cools and becomes what you want it to be. I wanted a redemption that was loud and bright, but when I think about it now, I think that this redemption would have been more about me, then it would have been about the Redeemer. We love because someone first made what love is, defined it and revealed it like that little girl does with her happy puppy watching her movements most eagerly.
And I, I haven’t known anything but this love. I haven’t held any other book as much as I’ve held my worn (and perhaps rather crusty) bible. I haven’t known what most of the world knows and even this is a grace. I want to think of it as grace, for if God is my Father (and He is), then He knows why (and He does) and He knows well enough to do what is perfectly good and reasonable and beyond reason too.
I won’t take any credentials with me to heaven. I know this. I will stand alongside the prodigal and we will have the same tears of gratitude in our eyes. Will he have more than I? For those who have been forgiven much love much. I don’t think at that moment we will be comparing tears. At least I won’t be. I will be looking elsewhere. There will be hardly any of he or I to see in that moment.
Stop for a moment and behold the grace you too have been given. It may be a burning bush kind of grace, and it may be a slow and steady arm kind of grace. Does it wait to reveal itself, like the thick air waits to reveal with wetness it holds? Until this revealing, I want to look at my story as something well crafted by the hand of a carpenter who knows no other than good.