** I haven't written Part 3 of those other talks yet. I'll try to get to that next week. For now let's have a li'l story, shall we?
I have almost no memory of Easter last year, and neither does my husband. We discovered that during a conversation the weekend before Easter, as we were dealing with last minute preparations and gift buying for our kids. It had been a very stressful week for us because the stomach bug had descended on our house, and John had an extra busy week at work getting the church ready for Easter Sunday. Yet thanks to John’s Mom and the dollar theatre, we had a couple of kid-free hours on Saturday to try and take care of all the last minute details. One thing we realized in car conversation on the way to Target is that last Easter was near the beginning of what’s turned out to be quite a rough year since then, and that probably has something to do with our total lack of recall. A tear in your family fabric will do that to you sometimes.
The details of the situation are tough, but unfortunately they’re not anything unique, special or new. The same branches have been breaking since the first family tree was planted, and it will continue to go that way so long as we’re planted here in earthly soil. That’s not a ho-hum attitude from me, believe me, I wish the opposite were true. But when you’re walking a certain path, you begin to see others on the same road, behind and ahead of you, and soon you understand just how likely it is to come across old, gnarled stumps and broken, dry wood.
But let’s go back to Target shall we? That’s where John and I decided that this year, we didn’t want to just give our kids more candy. So we began looking for meaningful, inexpensive gifts. We landed on flip-flops for the twelve-year-old, a youth-sized basketball for the five-year-old, and a paperback version of Peter Pan for the nine-year-old. Plus a copy of The Muppets – for everyone. Sunday morning rolled around and John left while it was still dark to go technically direct one, two, three services. The kids and I attended the last one and we all came home to the smell of a green-bean casserole lovingly prepared by Grandma. Some friends joined us and we ate all that we could since half of us were still recovering from the earlier mentioned stomach bug, and the other half was just beginning to feel its initial rumblings. After dinner, we mellowed out in various corners of the house to talk or play until finally it was just the five of us again, and it was time to open presents.
Here’s where I’d love to tell you that every child excitedly grabbed their baskets and showered us with thankful hugs, but in truth it was a lackluster performance. Each one of them looked at our gifts, then back at us, then back at the table, and said “Where’s the candy?”
I could still save this story by telling you how we all ended up snuggling on the bed watching The Muppets, but that would be a lie. The movie sat there unopened for an entire day and when it was finally viewed, only our daughter was watching because John had finally succumb to illness and much needed sleep; I spent the time getting caught up on laundry; and the boys were well enough to run and play, so we let them. All in all it felt like, once again, Easter had come and gone and I’d missed out. Oh well, I said to myself, such is the life for those of us in ministry. Maybe we’ll do a better job next year.
Now let me be clear here, there was no special ingredient, like a sunrise service at the lake, a Pinterest worthy egg hunt, or even a consecrated holy communion missing from my Easter. There was just this overwhelming sense, at the end of the day, that there was nothing special about it. My Easter Sunday came and went with really no hint of an otherworldly power. I’m not blaming anyone either. I just remember thinking to myself that a smidge of resurrection would’ve been nice, but instead we had another ordinary Sunday, only we were way more tired than usual.
A few days later though, God gave me a second chance at Easter, in the form of a John Mark Mcmillan concert here in Knoxville. It’s interesting that John bought our tickets almost two months ago, and I’d never made the connection that it would be just after Easter until after Easter had passed. I wasn’t even sure I was excited about going until the afternoon before the show when I was cleaning the classroom after all my pre-school kids went home. The melody to one of his songs popped in my head and I began to hum along. It occurred to me that nobody likes to sing about death, bones and graves more than this guy. Maybe I won’t have to wait a whole ‘nother year for Easter, I thought to myself.
Of course it was a struggle to get out of the house and on a date, and wouldn’t you know it, we had an argument in the car on the way to the show. Even the first half of the show, I kept thinking how heavy and dark some of these songs felt. I wasn’t upset by the music, it just wasn’t exactly the night of “praise and worship” I’d first envisioned. But midway through, something else began to happen. I listened to the words being sung and for the first time I understood John’s obsession with these anthems over the last year. Finally, here was someone giving voice to the desperation we’d been feeling with regard to our family situation. It had been a year of darkness, a year where I said to God, “If you’re not real to us now, then you were never real in the first place.”
I know that sounds harsh, but it seemed like we’d come to the place where the rubber meets the road, and we needed our faith more than ever, to get through it. In the music of JMM, John found the message of a Father whose love for his son was not an indecipherable question mark, but a declaration shouted from the skies. I began to see that this music was a lifeline for my husband. He’d held on to these songs for dear life, for an entire year, and here he was, after all this time, celebrating the fact that their message was still true.
When the show was over, and we were back at home, John asked me if he looked like a fool earlier that night.
“What are you talking about?” I asked.
“I was singing my head off, and hopping around like a madman” he said.
“Well, I couldn’t hear you,” I reassured him. “Plus, I was standing in front of you most of the show, so I couldn’t see you either.” I told him with a smile.
Actually though, I watched quite a few other people in the crowd, and that was the best part of the show for me. So many guys were in that crowd and they all had the same look: some weird combination of relative un-surety and definitive devotion, which told me everything else I needed to know. Despite their varying degrees of scruffiness and hairiness, they were all clinging to the same hope doled out in drumbeats and strummed into electric pulses.
And then I had this vision, but it wasn’t the same old candy I’d expected. I thought about the scene from the end of the Disney movie Beauty and the Beast, but I began to see it with a twist. What if the scene was reversed and a man saw that his inside was a beast? What if Belle had to leave again, but the beast had to stay in the same old run down castle for a little while longer? He’d know he was still a beast, but he’d never forget the moment when all that light entered his body, and every black hole was filled. And maybe that would be enough to keep him going. Enough power for now. Until that final resurrection day.
And maybe the song in his heart would sound a bit like this one. Seen a Darkness -- JMM