Love Letters

OK, right up front I have to confess to being a bit of a pack rat. This is important to the story because part of what I’ve been doing, while a furloughed Government employee this week, has been cleaning out my basement from decades of accumulated junk. I’m also going through the boxes of mementos, trying to simplify those; for instance, my parents had saved a box of my elementary school work. I don’t think my kids or grandkids are going to find my fifth grade spelling test to be as fascinating.

I came across one set of boxes, though, that contained about ten shoeboxes, each crammed with all the letters from various friends I’d received and then saved from the early 1980s through today. (Although the number of letters saved dropped off d-r-a-m-a-t-i-c-a-l-l-y in the mid-1990s, about the time email came along. Go figure.) I had completely forgotten that I had saved them all!

I went through the boxes of letters, and decided to have almost all of them shredded. I pulled out the stack of love letters that Mary had sent me when we were still dating and just becoming affianced; those I’m definitely saving. But all the rest: they’re going. Ones from my mom and dad, included. And in so doing, I get to say goodbye to a lot of other love letters and ghosts in my past.

Laura, the first real romance I had (if you can count 8th grade as romance, but hey, we exchanged letters about another 7 years). Then Cynthia. Heidi. Dawn. And Julie, my first true long-term relationship. All were some stage of relationship I had, each in some way preparing me to be who I am.

I will confess to a quick peek through some of them before I tossed them in the shred box. They speak of life in a simpler time, when letters were the only way to share (because long distance phone calls were SO EXPENSIVE) and when all of us were young, oh so young, with raw emotions and little experience in dealing with them. The awkwardness, the daring, the vulnerability–the whole range of emotions.

To be honest, it’s with mixed emotions I let these letters go. Of course, I’m not in love with these women anymore, and I certainly don’t need to have these around. I mean, looking at the letters today was the first time in decades that I’d seen them. Some of these young women were more into me than I was into them. Others, I know I hurt when we broke up. All of them, I would apologize to for any hurt I would have caused. All of them, I truly wish well, and hope they’re doing well. One, I know, is a thriving wife and mother. Others, I’m not so sure. But I’m not about to go find out. And yet, they’re just letters, just relics of a time gone by that will never come again, will never amount to anything.

In exorcising those ghosts of my past, it also occurs to me that they each pointed to what I have today. My wife is the total package, if you will, of all I had pieces of over my life. Laura’s smile and (frankly) sauciness is Mary’s. Cynthia’s sense of humor and small-town genuineness is Mary’s. Dawn’s faith is Mary’s. Heidi’s vulnerability is Mary’s. And Julie’s warmth and dedication is Mary’s.

I remember aching for one of my early romances at the time, and wondering if she were the one God had in mind for me. Little did I know he would have many others in store for me, before unveiling the grand prize, the one who brought everything together for me, the one without whom I couldn’t imagine the last nearly 29 years. And as I prepare to put my trust in him one more time, for one more big step, it seems right to let go of all the past, all that’s extraneous, all that isn’t what I have now and need to have in the future.

God bless you all. Forgive me my shortcomings, and allow some fond thought instead. I truly wish you every blessing. And now I’m off with Mary to our next adventure.

Contrasts

Two very different scenes this week that nonetheless come together.

Scene One: It snowed over the weekend, starting Saturday night and through Sunday evening, with about five inches of snow here at the house. (See the picture from the dining room into the back yard.) Roads were pretty slick Sunday night, but by Monday enough plows had been through that roads were better, and I headed out to do some errands.

As I drove, I noticed how postcard-perfect the roadside scenes were. The sky was a soft shade of light blue that contrasted beautifully against the snow-covered landscape. The trees themselves were frosted with caps of snow on the branches; a string of evergreens looked like a Christmas tree forest, glistening under the winter sun. Nearby our house is a great set of sledding hills, and we can hear the shrieks of delighted children. But yet, muffled: I love walking in the snow, as it dampens sound and makes everything quieter, hushed, more peaceful. It truly was a magnificent scene, and gave my heart cause to praise God the Creator for this tremendous gift.

Scene Two: Heartbreak. Our daughter had been pursuing a course of action academically that was not working out for her. It had been her hope to succeed at this new school, and yet her health is not such that she can achieve what she needs to achieve. And so she had to come to the point of deciding what to do: to try to push on, or to step out.

Every parent fiercely wants the best for their child, and every parent’s heart breaks when their child can’t get what they want. I’m no different, and so I ache for her to have to make a difficult decision.

And in the midst of it, the Father’s heart is breaking as well, I am sure. Two thoughts come to mind. First is the beauty of the snowy scene, and how it shows the magnificence of God. Look, he is saying: you’re right to feel for your child. But look around you, and see how much I love you too. I love you enough to give you this entire creation to enjoy, and it’s beautiful. And I love you enough to give you this gift even though you don’t deserve it. Receive my gift; lift your head, stop focusing on your own troubles and look at the magnificence I have for you.

And second: Remember the promises God makes throughout history.

Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid, do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go. (Joshua 1:9)

So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand. (Isaiah 41:10)

I can do all things through Christ, who gives me strength. (Philippians 4:13)

Our daughter’s troubles will pass. ThereĀ is hope. And we see that hope in the love of God, reflected in the beauty of his creation on a snowy January day. Come, Lord Jesus, fill the hearts of your faithful, and wrap us in your love.

Grace In The New Year

Happy New Year 2019!

Mary and I started the year with a long-delayed anniversary trip to the UK. We’d talked about doing this last year, but then with my appendectomy at our anniversary, and other stuff going on, it wasn’t the right time. But with my 2-for-1 coupon (and I could use miles!) expiring on January 6, and David home for the winter break, and no classes until February…it felt like the right time. (Add onto it a government shutdown and I’m not missing any time at work!)

And so we left for London on the night of New Year’s Day. On Thursday the 3rd, we visited Parliament (more on that later), and roughly the site on Aldersgate Street where John Wesley experienced his heart warming, and started a movement. I say “roughly” because the building that had been there has long since been torn down; it’s at a traffic circle now, and so one plaque is on one part of the pedestrian wall around the circle, and a monument to Wesley is above it, on a pedestrian bridge outside the Museum of London. Really, you have to look for it. But we found it! It’s a bronze flame of Methodism.20190103_125608.jpgAs I read the words on the flame, which are John’s diary entry for May 24, 1738, I felt my own soul in agreement. He describes seeing little touches of grace during the day, where God’s word spoke to him a couple of times, including the phrase, “You are not far from the Kingdom of God.” Then that evening he had his heart-warming experience. I know some of what John wrote about, in seeing little touches of God’s grace flick at me here and there, before sending his more powerful words to me. It’s like that, I thought.

And then I had the chance to live into that grace yesterday morning. We both didn’t sleep well overnight, and so dramatically overslept. Like, after noon. Like, being awakened by the front desk asking if everything was all right because we hadn’t checked out yet. Ugh. Scramble to get ready, and now we’re late, now we won’t have as much time at Windsor Castle, now we’ll be getting to our Airbnb in Oxfordshire after dark and I don’t know where I’m going and I’m having to drive on the left and…AAAHHHHH!

Mary to the rescue: “I’m just going to put my trust in Him,” she said. Sigh. Yes. Of course. Isn’t that part of the message of grace? And so we still made it to pick up our car, and we still made it to Windsor (OK, we were almost literally the last people admitted), and we still found our way to Churchill, Oxfordshire. And all day long I kept hearing in my mind Aaron Shust’s song:

My hope is in You, Lord
All the day long, I won’t be shaken by drought or storm
A peace that passes understanding is my song
And I sing my hope is in You, Lord

Yes, Lord. Forgive me when I still think it’s up to me. Thank you for the little reminders of your grace you scatter before me. Help me to see them more clearly, and to rest in you when I do.