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…

Alive

So I’m waiting in the restaurant area of a Flying J trucker’s stop.  The buzzing noise from the harsh fluorescent lighting competes with the sickly sweet ballads of love songs playing on the radio, the floor alternates sticky patches of spilled soda, brown slushy ice, and yellow “Slippery When Wet” signs to mark the areas that have been freshly mopped, while the smells of stale donuts, slowly roasting hot dogs, and burning french fries wrestle for dominance in my nostrils.  This is not the most beautiful place I have sat, yet the presence of God is here.

There is a beauty in colors and murals painted on the wall, the lyrics to the sappy love songs contain glimpses of transcendence, and the veil of the mundane that shields the faces of the cashiers working behind the register slips, showing glimpses of their true nature as the beloved daughters and sons of the King who created them in his image and loves them.  Beauty and glory are around, and gratitude and awe pour from my every pore.

I am so thankful for life – to be alive – to move, breathe, taste cool water on my lips, feel the soft warmth from my jacket, marvel at the chemical processes and electrical impulses that move my fingers on the keyboard, and seeing each and every moment as the precious gift that it is.  I am so thankful that words just don’t seem enough.

—–

The police officer who stopped on the side of the road and asked me what happened, shook his head, and told me I should buy a lottery ticket, because today was my lucky day.  Two hours ago, I was driving from Grand Rapids back to Rockford – my car full of practically every possession I own on this earth as I completed the move from Philadelphia back to Northern Illinois (for those of you whom this portion of the story catches you by surprise, just roll with it – I’ll explain more about that transition next time).

As I came around the corner on the highway going about 70 miles an hour, my phone rang – my eyes darted to see who it was, and when I glanced back up I saw the car ahead of me slam on the brakes.  I’m not sure what they were trying to avoid – I never saw it in any case.  I was able to swerve and miss hitting them, but as I cleared their car my tires hit a patch of ice and the car started fishtailing.  I was controlling the slide when the ice stopped, and my tires all of a sudden had traction again.  Unfortunately, they were no long pointing down the west bound lanes, but were at about a 45 degree angle to the road.  This managed to propel me across the lane of traffic to my left into the snow covered median, where I and my car were suddenly airborne and spinning.

I’m still not sure how many times we flipped as we bounced over the median: it could have only been once, or it could have been up to three or four.  Regardless, I managed to roll my way across the median, landed the car right-side up, then slid across three lanes of oncoming (eastbound) traffic before lightly coming to a stop on the guardrail at the far side of the highway.

I got out, shaken but otherwise completely unhurt, pulled my car completely onto the shoulder (it still runs, even though it is completely missing the back windshield – lost somewhere in the flipping and bouncing), and was greeted by an off-duty police officer who called it in.  Within a few minutes, I had three officers there who all expressed amazement  that I was unscathed (from the aforementioned “lottery ticket” comment to another officer exclaiming that my car should be in a Honda commercial for protecting me that well and coming out of it still running.)

The rest of the story is strangely anticlimactic – tow trucks, figuring out the logistics of getting the car looked at and deciding if it’s drivable, Abby driving down from Grand Rapids (over an hour) to pick me up, along with her mom (which made me tear up with gratitude when I heard it), to sitting in truck stop writing this.  My family is currently in Korea (except for Jon, who hasn’t picked up his phone yet), and the adrenaline is wearing off.  And above all, I needed to get it down and process my gratitude once more.  As he drove away, the police officer called me over and said, “Seriously, if I were you, I would buy a lottery ticket.  You are one lucky man.  I’m surprised that you’re still alive.  I’ve seen people MUCH worse off from much less serious accidents.  Count your blessings.”

So this is my attempt to stop and express my thanks.  Thanks to God for protection.  I am ok.  Thanks to people for picking up and driving 90 minutes each way to be with me.  Thanks, thanks, and more thanks.  Gratitude overflows.  Grace abounds.  And if you’re reading this, you too are alive.

Know I’m thankful for each of you – the family, the friends, those whose lives have touched mine and who have been touched by me.  So humbled.  And so, so, so thankful.

 

———-

 

A Post-Script – So I am under the impression that my car (Eustace) has been trying to kill me.  On Monday night, en route from Philadelphia to Upland, I spun out on a slushy, snow-covered highway in Ohio going 50 and did at least one full rotation (it might have been two – I’m a little hazy and all I really remember is spinning) before stopping on the side of the road, facing the direction I was originally headed.  A few days later, after clearing off almost an inch of ice frozen to the car, I was driving from Indiana up to Michigan when the last of the ice melted.  My hood flew open as I pulled onto the highway from a rest stop, cracking the windshield, bending the hood in a few places, and generally scaring me half to death.  I was able to pull off the highway, bend the hood back down, and keep driving the rest of the way.  And then today, this happened.  Seriously Eustace, what is your problem with me, and why is it that you’ve decided I should no longer be among the living?  I think I may preemptively get rid of you in order to avoid any further attempts on my life…

A Post-Post-Script – I hesitate to admit this on a public forum such as the internet, but I will confess to you that as I walked, watched, and waited by the side of the road for the tow-truck to come, the song that kept running through my head was Amy Grant’s “Angels watching over me…”  Check it out.  It is amazing.

Thankful


I’m sitting here on the balcony of my grandparent’s home in Redondo Beach, barefoot and t-shirted, watching the sunset, and suffused with a sense of contentment and rest.  “Why?”, you might ask…  Let me tell you just a few reasons:

– the oranges, golds, pinks, and infinite shades of blue reflecting off the clouds as palm trees are silhouetted in the fading light.

– celebrating and feeling the weight of the Advent and birth of Emmanuel, the God who is with us.

– enjoying rich time with family (immediate and extended, except for Carly and Erik).

– much laughter, games, stories, home movies, and crazy cousin antics (our cousin Nick putting Kenny G’s “Silent Night” on repeat, slowly increasing the volume while we had family Christmas for almost 45 minutes until Josiah finally snapped and switched it off, or wrapping items in Grandma’s home and giving them to her for Christmas)

– walks on the beach, flips and cartwheels and acrobatics with the pounding surf in the background, feeling gloriously alive.

– getting sand everywhere.

– chips and salsa, hot showers, and having sand nowhere.

– being with people who know you deeply, and still love you anyway.

– family chess tournaments.

– a day out on the ocean paddle-boarding.

– reconnecting with old friends.

– cross-country skiing, falling in Lake Michigan, and chopping down a Christmas tree in a Michigan winter.

– pink birthday parties with the laughter of children.

– good friends (might as well be family, really) who you can call up on Christmas Eve and they will have you over for Christmas cookies, dinner, and home.

– truth, honesty, grace, and wholeness that pursue me and will not let me go.

– my wounds, scars, and other evidence of growth (as painful and challenging as it is).

I am richly, richly blessed, and the words of Julian of Norwich echo through my mind and my heart:

And all shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well…  our wounds shall be as worships!

It is well with my soul.

So what are you are thankful for right now?

Cool water

So this past Friday afternoon was quite eventful as I knocked out a big chunk of applications, bit the bullet, and sent them in. In celebration, I drove into the suburbs and spent the night with some friends. There’s something refreshing and life-giving about being with people who really, truly know you, and vice versa. And when you’ve known someone for a long time, it’s just that much sweeter.

Seeing Jeff and Megan and their beautiful daughter was long overdue, a breath of fresh air and cool water and warm sunlight. Sitting on the couch in the living room next to a fake fire (or rather, a real fire that burned on a fake log), laughing, telling stories, asking questions, challenging and encouraging each other…

Anyway, I’m grateful. Grateful for family, for friends both old and new, for those who know me, and who have allowed me to know them. Grateful for those that are exist and those that are developing. I am so rich, so blessed.

So much of this past year has been transitory – leaving Brazil, moving to the US, adjusting… saying good-byes – so many good-byes… preparing for the future… trying to figure out which doors to knock on, which to pursue, which dreams are worth fighting for and which dreams should be left to die gently… discovering what friendships look like now that I’m here, and not there… stumbling towards home, seeking clarity and wisdom, hoping and praying for grace…