St Paul – the man at the register

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Part fifteen.

I first notice him at the register with a customer, singing charismatically about the frozen three cheese pizza in his hand as he passes it over the scanner.  He is tall, with curly hair and a broad grin over his five-o’clock shadow.  He seems unaware of himself.  The opposite of me.  Outgoing and friendly, while I am just beginning to feel the extent of my alone-ness in this new city.

I want to know who this man is, so I take the initiative to do a basket sweep across the registers.  I try to time it so I arrive just as his customer is leaving.

I say hello and extend my hand.  I tell him I transferred here from New Jersey with wife and child.  (His name is Ryan.)  He, like everyone else, is curious why I’d pluck up my family and leave the comforts of familiarity, just to work a low-paying job in another city.  I am used to this question by now, and I try to phrase it in such a way that I am gaining “witnessing” points, while also not making myself look like a total idiot.  We are here to go to Bethlehem Baptist to pursue missions, but we also want space to grow together.  To experience life on our own.

Missions?  He smiles, and opens his arms wide above his head, proclaiming, “A brother!”  He wraps them around me in a comforting embrace.

I am not alone.

Part fourteen.

St Paul – the departure

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Part fourteen.

For the first time in my life, my father is weeping in my arms like a helpless child.  All his weight is resting on me, and it is more than I can bear.  I begin to cry.

What are we doing here?  Was this a mistake?  I try to push back the questions.  But it’s no use.  We can’t turn back.  All I see is that my parents are leaving, and I do not know when I will see them again.

It’s as though, for twenty-three years, I’ve been sleeping in a warm, cozy house, blankets tucked up to my chin.  A kiss on the forehead goodnight.  Then, suddenly, the wind begins to blow and the rain to fall.  Its strength picks up.  The frame begins to creak and screech, nails ejecting from their wooden cockpits.  Air gets under, and the roof gives up, blowing away like a feather into the torrent.  The blankets are sucked from my body.  And I stand up, shivering, naked and exposed.

My parents walk out the door and step into their idling truck.  It feels futile to stand in the driveway and wave goodbye.  They are gone now.  What is one more minute of looking at them?  Holding them in my mind as though I could engrave them, body and soul, into my heart?

I have no strength to stand.  So I sit down on my cousins’ living room couch, the room dark with half-closed blinds, trees shrouding the mid-morning sun.

Their truck drives past the window, and they honk.  Arms slowly waving out the window.  My heart grows heavy, and I am anchored down to the bottom of this cushion of grief.

Part thirteen. Part fifteen.

Lemon bag head

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It’s a good thing Emeth didn’t die!

- Micaela, commenting on Emeth’s survival after falling down one flight of steps.

* * * * *

Lemon bag head

Lemon bag head

Wedding girls wear those silly hats when they get married.

- Emeth, upon the occasion of Micaela wearing a lemon bag on her head.

* * * * *

Annie: [In the middle of lunch] Uh-oh.  I ‘got (forgot) pay.
Mommy: Do you want to pray?
Annie: Yeah. [Taking mommy’s hand] Thank you.  Amen!

Begging for bread

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“Daddy, we forgot to talk about communion yesterday,” Micaela says.

She’s right.  We did forget to talk about it.  Or more like it, I forgot.  It’s actually the last thing I want to talk about right now.  I’m mid-bite in a perfectly cooked slice of bacon.  But I suppose this is Deuteronomy six.  “And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart.  You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise.”  I get my Bible and open to the end of Matthew.

As I search for the passage in mind, she asks, “Daddy, how will I know when I’m ready to take communion?”

This first came up over the summer.  She didn’t make a fuss over us not letting her participate, but she wanted to know what it was all about.  So we read and talked.  “Can I take it?” she wanted to know.

I wasn’t sure how to respond, so I said, “I think you will know when you are ready.”

Mostly it seemed that she was just hungry on a Sunday morning and wanted a snack as the bread (matzoh) and wine (juice) were passed.  But of course, it was hard to discern.  I guess it was my way of buying time.  Besides, I still wonder if I am ready.

Not sure how to answer, I start reading:

Now as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and after blessing it broke it and gave it to the disciples, and said, “Take, eat; this is my body.”  And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, saying “Drink of it, all of you, for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.” (Matthew 26:26-28)

“Why did they break the bread?” Emeth asks with his arms outstretched, motioning the breaking of bread over and over again, fascinated by his own hand movements.

“Jesus was celebrating the Passover with his Disciples.”

“What’s the Passover?” Micaela asks.

My mind goes back to the spring when we read about the Exodus.  “Do you remember when we read about Pharaoh?”

We talk again about the tenth and most devastating plague.  Moses telling the Israelites to kill the perfect lamb and paint the blood over the door post.  The Angel of Death passing over.  The death of the first born.

Her face is so attentive.  She is turning these words over in her mind, like a heap of compost.

For four years we’ve dumped all of our organic waste into a pile between three pallets in our backyard.  Slowly turning the heap with a shovel each time.  Four years of leaf accumulation, grass clippings and food waste.  It is a beautiful black, rich with minerals and nutrients and fat worms doing their God given task.

And now, all of these pure, simple words that we have poured into her over the past four years are beginning to break down and meld together.

As she asks more questions, she is letting me see the Passover and communion through the eyes of a child.  This old story comes to life again.  The blood of the lamb over the doorpost.  Jesus, the Lamb.  His blood shed for us.  Covering us.  Washing us white as snow.

She is teaching me, and my heart begins to warm.  I want to cry at the simplicity of it.

Later, at church, as they pass the bread and wine, she asks me if she can take it.  Sadly, my mind runs to all of the immature things she has done or said that week.  Or that morning.  Then, just as quickly, I am reminded of my own immaturity.  The things I said.  The things I did, or chose not to do.

Is she ready?  She is as ready as me.  We are as ready as Peter, who denied Jesus three times that night.  Two hungry children standing before their Father, begging for a piece of bread.

We take and eat together.

Dear Coffee: A Letter

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Dear Coffee,

This is hard for me to communicate, because I really do love you.  I can’t think of starting my day without you.  But I think we need to end our relationship.

We’ve been together a long time, haven’t we?  We met in college, freshmen year.  I had stayed up till early in the morning studying for my Philosophy 101 final, and you ran me over.  I had never tried anything like you before.  You were fun and exciting.  You had so much variety.  All those other drinks wore too much sugar or artificial ingredients.  But you.  You were bold, and you didn’t care what anyone thought of you.  I was drawn to your originality.

Part of what was so interesting about you is that you had travelled so much.  You had seen the world.  Ethiopia, Hawaii, Turkey, Columbia, Peru, Nicaragua.  Yes, this made it hard at times, since you seemed to flip personalities like a switch.  On Monday you’d be Italian, on Tuesday French, Wednesday dark, Thursday light.  But all your traveling did have it’s advantages.  You really knew how to blend well with others.

One thing that kept it exciting is that you had so many different names.  Sometimes you asked me to call you Breve.  Other times, Espresso.  And of course, my favorite, Mocha Latte.  You were a mystery to me.  And yet, you were unmistakable.

But as time went on, I think I got a little too attached.  At first we were seeing each other a few times a week.  But soon enough I needed you everyday.  It seemed harmless at first, and the withdrawal symptoms were not worth it too me.  So I kept going.

I was in a good routine.  You and a bagel with butter every morning.  But then life got more stressful and I wanted more of you.  I started emptying my pockets after lunch just to scrounge together enough change to buy you.  Then after dinner I found I couldn’t get by without you and and some sweet delight.

What was once exciting had become routine.  You became commonplace.  Where I once appreciated your variety and boldness, it eventually became “any old you” to get me through.  I didn’t care if you were stale or rancid.  That could easily be covered up.

So where does that leave us?  I am saying goodbye, but I don’t know if this is goodbye for good.  I sure hope not.

Please don’t misunderstand what I’m saying.  It’s not you.  It’s me.  I just have some things I need to work on in myself.  I’ll understand if you move on.  I would too, if I were you.  I’m not worth it.

Please don’t try to call or text or show up in my kitchen cabinet.  I don’t think I’d be able to handle the temptation.  I think it’s best if we grind this thing to a halt.

Sincerely,

Joseph

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