Anticipation and celebration


On Sunday afternoon, my younger sister married a lucky, lucky man. Four months after their engagement, a year since they had started dating, almost two years after they first met, their friends and family gathered from all over the world. People came from Germany, Korea, Australia, Hawaii, North Carolina, Illinois, Michigan, Texas, Virginia, Nevada, Washington, New York, Arizona, and all parts of California (among others) to celebrate their love – their commitment – their choosing of each other for the rest of their lives – and to do so in a way that pointed others to God, to life, and to deeper love.

The rehearsal on Saturday afternoon was a celebratory reunion, full of laughter and excitement as we practiced and watched the bride-to-be walk through the grassy field, surrounded by flowers and nature and green growing things. The rehearsal dinner that afternoon was again celebratory and full of anticipation – as we were served by Kait and Adam, were filled with good things, tables crowded with laughter and movement, with stories remembered and adventures relived, and people tried to capture the essence of the two who we’d gathered to celebrate. That night everyone – wedding party, family, friends, out of town guests – gathered at a nearby bowling alley for a night of play, laughter, music, dancing, a little friendly competition, visiting, and connecting, all covered in a deep blanket of gratitude and thanksgiving.

Sunday morning was full – family and friends running to the reception site to decorate, set tables, place the manzanita trees, hang candles, prepare the dance floor, arranging the room in a way that invited people to celebrate and rejoice while drawing their eyes to the joy Adam and Kait were feeling. So many people pitched in to help – so many gave of their time and energy out of love for the bride and groom.

At the gardens the chairs were arranged close together, inviting the guests to step in close and be a part of the ceremony. The wedding itself was gorgeous and simple – cello, oboe, and violin, communion on bended knee, worship, laughter, and the little touches that were so in keeping with who they are and what they want their shared life together to be about. And they said their vows, reaffirmed their choice, and stood joyful and radiant, together.

From a certain point of view, the reception was fairly normal.  It had all the right ingredients: food and wine, cake and champagne, toasts and speeches, pictures and well-wishing, dancing and laughter. But this was different – special – more – because it was THEIRS. The way the ingredients came together and the love and joy of the people who had gathered there to celebrate with the couple left me speechless at times – the only response was to move, to laugh, to dance. The love and joy were almost palpable. It was enchanting to watch people throw themselves into the celebration, to embrace looking ridiculous and throw propriety to the wind, faces glowing with laughter (or in some cases, the glow-sticks that had been liberally distributed to the dancers). People didn’t want to leave, but the night had to end as all things must.

As we gathered to send them off, bubbles filling the air, they high-fived their way down the receiving line, stopping for hugs and kisses and thanks and heartfelt congratulations and “one-more-things…” And then they were gone.

I think about this weekend, and I think about heaven – “the wedding supper of the Lamb.” I love the imagery associated with this – seeing heaven as a wedding and a feast, a beautiful meaningful ceremony followed by rich food and wine, deep connection, laughter ringing through the halls of heaven, dancing and music and stories flowing through eternity, the gathering of those we love and those we will come to love. I remember the anticipation Kait and Adam felt as they looked forward to the day they could be with each other, and could be united in a new and deeper way. And just as their anticipation melted into celebration, so our anticipation of eternity will flower into riotous, joyful, roof-shaking shouts of joy.

A number of friends who were at this wedding are feeling that anticipation deeply now, as they mourn the deaths of a mother, a wife, a husband, a father, a sister, a brother, a son, a daughter, a grandma, a grandpa… At times, I’m sure they were acutely aware of all those who couldn’t be at THIS wedding celebrating… But I am so thankful, and hopeful, and anticipating with great joy the wedding celebration at which we will ALL be in attendance, from the greatest to the least, where every tear will be wiped away, and death itself will be swallowed up forever. And even as we celebrate Kait and Adam, and their love for and committment to each other, we celebrate the God who gave them to each other, the God who is making all things new, the God who is constantly foreshadowing the good gifts that he has in store here and now, and the God who is preparing the party that will leave us breathless. We wait with hope, and as we wait, we celebrate.  We celebrate because we are all invited.  We celebrate because the table always has room for one more.  We celebrate because the arms of the Father are open wide.  Come on in. The music has started, and it’s time to start dancing…

Celebration

In just over a month, my friend Josh is getting married. He’s a favorite person of mine – thoughtful and deliberate, curious, intelligent, full of life, and always up for an adventure… So we met up at a state park in central Wisconsin – a bunch of guys who were drawn together for one reason – to celebrate Josh, his friendship, his upcoming wedding, and take some time to have an adventure.

The entire week before I was overwhelmed and feeling swamped with papers and projects that were due – my perfectionism loves to rear its ugly head at times like these – and nothing was quite good enough until I absolutely had to turn it in. (It’s worse when it’s stuff I really care about, which is pretty much all my classes… sigh…) But, I promised myself, if I could get through the week, this camping trip/adventure/celebration would be my reward. Of course, a couple days before, Josh emailed us all and in passing mentioned it was going to be in the low 30’s and raining. But hey, who ever let a little cold and rain stop a bachelor party from being celebrated?

Dan and I pulled into the campsite a little after noon on Saturday, to find most of the rest of the guys already there, huddled in a semi-circle, rain jackets on and hoods pulled high. Gray. Foggy. Drizzling. Humid. Everything was damp in minutes. Windy. And cold. It felt cold.

A quick round of introductions, handshakes and smiles and a few bearhugs, and we were off. Originally, the plan was to go climbing, but the rain made the rocks a little treacherous in places – and no matter what anyone tells you, moss does not turn sticky when it gets wet… Kinda the opposite, actually. So we left the climbing gear in the cars, and instead we just hiked around the lake – through the woods and up the bluff, stopping to play whenever we felt the urge. Some trees just scream out to be climbed (especially when they are growing out of the side of a cliff 200 feet above the valley floor.) And sometimes we just stopped and stared off the cliff edge as the rain fell and the cloids boiled and swirled around us, and we fell silent at the strange beauty… And sometimes, we laughed and told stories and pretended we were hiking through the forests of Lorien, and orcs were about to come streaming over the hill… And sometimes we stopped to skip rocks in the lake and see who could throw them the farthest and who could balance for the longest time on the railroad tracks without falling off… But the whole time was sweet, and full of laughter and that deep sense of joy – of all being right with the world. And the whole time, the rain fell. Sometimes sprinkling. Sometimes drizzling. But always falling.

We got back to the campsite around dusk, and the rain stopped. It’s always easier to set up camp when it’s not raining. It’s also usually easier to set up camp when the ground’s not churned into a muddy froth. But you can’t have everything. Me and a couple other guys set up tents while Dan built the fire, and Josh and Zach and Terry got the venison stew heating up on the camp stove, and we gathered around the fire. Of course, it being December, by 5:00 it was pitch black – by 6:00 it felt like midnight…

The rest of the night was just a bunch of guys around a campfire – telling stories, laughing, eating food, cooking things in the fire… When you put it into words, it loses some of the magic that was there: the smell of wood-smoke, the crackling of the fire, the chill of December air, the glimmering stars peeking through the clouds, the taste of warm stew heating you up from the inside, the pitter-patter of rain falling through the bare branches onto the bed of leaves in the forest around us, sizzling in the fire, slowly drenching through our multiple layers of clothing… And it’s even more than that. You lose some of the magic of a few men who have taken a night to sleep outside in the mud and rain because we love our friend, and want to celebrate him. You lose the magic of hearing Josh talk about the woman he can’t wait to spend the rest of his life with, and laughing about the predicaments he has gotten himself into (and out of again.) You lose the magic of a bunch of strangers gathering and becoming brothers because they are all friends with Josh. There’s so much you miss out on. But that’s ok – ’cause after all, it was just a bunch of us huddled around the campfire, kicking at the darkness, telling stories of hope, and love, and joy, and life. It was life-giving – and just what I needed. I hope it was what Josh needed…

By this point, it was raining pretty hard, so we decided to call it a night. Dan and I went and threw sleeping bags and pads into the tent, only to discover that due to a combination of inferior tent (probably mostly this, if you ask me) and shoddy tent pitching (maybe more of this, if you ask Dan), the tarp that was supposed to keep the bottom of the tent dry had instead captured the water, turning our tent into a miniature indoor swimming pool. Spare clothes were soaked. Sleeping bags were dampened. Sleeping pads were drifting along, crewed by tiny woodland creatures on fantastic journeys of discovery. Thankfully, Dan had an extra tarp that we spread inside the tent in the vain hope that it would prove water-proof enough to let us make it through the night. And it did a pretty good job keeping what was not already soaked mostly dry. Except for our sleeping bags… You know, the things that are supposed to keep you warm when the temp drops below freezing… The synthetic material acted like a sponge, and slowly throughout the night the water wicked its way up the sleeping bags until by morning the bottom third of the bags were sopping wet. Let’s just say it was a long, cold night with not much sleep – and sleep, when it came, was fleeting. Every few minutes I’d wake and hear the rain beating down on the rain-fly, dripping into puddles that surrounded our tent, or rushing in rivulets down the hillside into the lake.

By the next morning, Dan and I were both curled up into balls in the top half of our sleeping bags, trying to keep toes from drifting into the icy depths of wet sleeping bag. And to finally give up all pretence of trying to sleep, and peel the damp wet sleeping bag off your legs and step out of the tent into a dry down coat felt heavenly. It had stopped raining at some point near dawn, and even though the sensation of not having freezing water drop down the back of your neck feels really good (especially after a day of it drip, drip, dripping), I found myself missing the rain.

All day as we hiked through the woods, leapt from rock to rock, swung from branches and sat in silence and awe, I was aware of the rain, and it was God’s love song. All evening as we sat around the fire, and the rain fell on my shoulders and then evaporated into a swirl of steam from the heat of the campfire, I was conscious of the rain falling, and it was God’s whisper. All night as I lay on the cold ground, and heard the rain pounding on the rain-fly, and felt the drips sneak through the sides and soak into my bag, I thought about the rain, and wonder threatened to overwhelm my heart with beauty. All day, all evening, all night, I was thinking of this:

 

“Water is always an invitation to imersion [for me], an immersion with a quality of totality, since it would accept all of me, as I am…
No rain falls that I do not at once hear in the sound of the falling water an invitation to come to the wedding. It is rare that I do not answer. A walk in an evening rain in any setting is to walk in the midst of God’s loving attention to his earth, and, like a baptism, is no simple washing, but a communication of life. When you hurry in out of the rain, I hurry out into it, for it is a sign that all is well, that God loves, that good is to follow. If suffering a doubt, I find myself looking to rain as a good omen. And in rain, I always hear singing, wordless chant rising and falling.
When rain turns to ice and snow I declare a holiday. I could as easily resist as stay at a desk with a parade going by in the street below. I cannot hide the delight that then possesses my heart. Only God could have surprised rain with such a change of dress as ice and snow…
Most people love rain, water. Snow charms all young hearts. Only when you get older and bones begin to feel dampness, when snow becomes a traffic problem and a burden in the driveway, when wet means dirt – then the poetry takes flight and God’s love play is not noted.
But I am still a child and have no desire to take on the ways of death. I shall continue to heed water’s invitation, the call of the rain. We are in love and lovers are a little mad.”

~ Matthew Kelty, Flute Solo,
Reflections of a Trappist Hermit, pp. 117-19

 

We broke down camp, loaded up the cars, and drove into town for breakfast and coffee (and dry warmth) at a local greasy-spoon diner – a great end to a time that was just too short. And in spite of my complaints about the cold, and the rain, and how my tent turned into a boat, I’m thankful it was raining. It fits Josh and DJ – who they are, and who they will be. And my prayer for them – my hope for us – is that they continue to take the time to go out and sit in the rain… to notice the poetry of God’s love play, to hear the call of the rain, the call to be in love, and just a little bit mad.

Birthdaes and life

I was 20 when I saw American History X.  We watched it and spent the next few hours processing what we had just seen – a story of hope and tragedy – but what I didn’t tell anyone was the premonition that came over me as we watched the film.  And from the moment, I knew – KNEW – that I was going to die (probably violently) before I turned 30.  I didn’t really know what to do with that feeling, and I felt a little weird telling others about it, so I just put it on a shelf to come back to at a later date.  Over the next 10 years or so, the memory of that feeling would haunt me every now and then.  My mind knew there was nothing to it – but my heart wasn’t really sure.

Fast forward 11 years later – I am turning 31 today, and I am still here – and oh so thankful for the gift of life.

A friend posted 32 near-death experiences for his 32nd birthday…  Sadly, I don’t have that many – but the ones I do have remind me once again what a gift it is to be alive, and how I cannot take it for granted.

The first time I almost died I wasn’t even two years old.  My parents were travelling cross-country, and as they stopped on the median to check a map, I was pulled out of my car seat to spend some time on my mom’s lap.  Minutes after they placed me back in my car seat, as they prepared to get back on the road, they were rear-ended by a pick-up truck.  Their car was totalled.  My mom’s glasses, which were resting on her lap (the exact same place I had been minutes before), were ejected from the car and never found.  I didn’t even realize it.

Fast forward a few months later – Peru, a hotel, a room on the 8th floor.  My parents leave me in the custody of a the daughter of another missionary couple.  When they come back, they find me playing on the balcony, head between the bars, seeing if I can fit through.  I can, but they get to me in time to stop me from trying to climb down.

When I was about 9, we lived in a red zone (declared a no-go area by the US embassy) because of the Sendero Luminoso guerrilla movement.  The judge down the street had a car bomb explode outside his home.  Every week bombings would take out electrical towers and power plants.  We got to be able to distinguish between the big fireworks and the bombs by sound alone.  Probably the most frightening thing were the extortion letters my parents got, threatening to kidnap and kill their children if they didn’t pay a ransom.

16 year old me was riding to the movies in a taxi in Lima with some friends of mine when a car swerved in front of us, slammed on the brakes, and out got 2 men with machine guns and two others holding pistols.  This was in the heydey of the MRTA (a different guerrilla movement that, just a few months before, had succeeded in storming the Japanese embassy, taking hundreds of people hostage, and holding them for months).  As they walked toward our car, we were sure we were going to die, but the armed men (we later found out they were police – not necessarily a good thing when the government killed as many people as the terrorists) pulled the driver out of the car next to us and waved us on.

There was the night we spent sleeping on the streets of Rome (a bad idea – even though the steps of the Pantheon will provide a dry place to sleep during a rain storm).

There were countless run-ins with the police, drug-dealers, gang members, boys and girls who lived on the street and could get high and violent.  There were the fights we broke up before they could really escalate – the times standing up to corrupt cops who were looking for ways to abuse their power.  There were the times of running from tear gas and the armored cars, ducking into cover with the neighbors as shots rang out, and deciding that maybe today wasn’t the best day to go to the beach.  There were multiple times being searched at gunpoint.  There was the time I was stuck outside the community I lived in, and my neighbors and I waited for a lull in the shooting so we could get home quickly before they started fighting again.  We made it.  All part and parcel of living in the favelas of Rio de Janeiro.

Even in February, I had my accident where I flipped my car, rolled it across the median, slid through three lanes of oncoming traffic, and came to a rest on the far median without a bruise or a scratch on me or anyone else.

And I know I am not unique.  Each person has 5, 10, 20 stories like this.  We have stories of how our lives could have ended, how fragile they are, and what a gift life truly is.  So today, on my birthdae, I’m going to rejoice.  I’m going to go sit outside on the porch, open up my Magnum ice cream bar, watch the moon float overhead, and celebrate life, for as long as I draw breath.  It’s worth celebrating.

An Easter Sermon

…First and last alike, receive your reward.
Rich and poor, rejoice together!

Conscientious and lazy, celebrate the day!
You who have kept the fast, and you who have not,
rejoice, this day, for the table is bountifully spread!

Feast royally, for the calf is fatted.
Let no one go away hungry.

Partake, all, of the banquet of faith.
Enjoy the bounty of the Lord’s goodness!

Let no one grieve being poor,
for the universal reign has been revealed.

Let no one lament persistent failings,
for forgiveness has risen from the grave.

Let no one fear death,
for the death of our Savior has set us free…

~ St. John Chrysostom

(yes, I have put this up here before. but I needed to remember it again…)

Happy Easter.

He is risen…