Nabeel, wish you were here

I am the bull pen this weekend.  Rachel Reon hoped to have Nabeel Qureshi do her wedding.  Not many girls can access med school graduates who get hired by Ravi Zacharias as apologetic powerhouses in the face of Muslims who hate him for leaving the faith.  And speaking so well against it.

I am filling in as Nabeel has been in the hospital at MD Anderson for 22 days straight.  Muslims rejoice to point to his stomach cancer as Allah’s judgment, and the doctors pulled him into emergency surgery, again, a few hours ago.

Nabeel, I will perform Rachel and Aaron’s wedding  tomorrow, while you remind us of what’s truest in Christianity.  As you skirt the abyss of death with thousands of people who hate you cheering for your demise, we will see Rachel and Aaron married.  Ever since that first Easter Sunday, out of stunning sadness, and out of the mouth of over-awing defeat God in Christ has snatched victory, snatched hope, and stolen joy for us over, and over, and over again.

So we pray for your healing, continually ask for healing.  We owe you that.  We owe Christ that.  We owe you both the asking when it seems o’erwhelmingly hopeless.  We owe you and Christ the asking for healing especially as your enemies are set for revelry.

And if God relents and lets you expend your last breath praising Him, then we owe Christ and you and your enemies clear testimony.  Beyond fatalism for Allah’s will, Christians dwell in a divergent land of hope inside Jehovah’s sovereign, best choices for us.  We ask, and when He heals you, we praise Him.  We ask, and if He deigns to take you, we mourn and still praise Him.

When you get out of the hospital, promise me a photo with a smarmy script saying “because we asked!” or something else mushy.  Wish you were here to do the ceremony, praying, hoping against hope, cheering for you.

Rachel, by the way, will be amazing, in part, due to your investing in her.  Get well.

Decanting Souls

Jan asked, “Will we decant mom on Sunday, then?”

The week was full of boxes crammed with scrapbooks, photos, and correspondences — scattered through the house, the storage building, the pool house and workshop: detritus of Barbara K. Johnson’s life.

We laughed hard to hear little Jill write her mother in the hospital, that she neither believed her brother that mom was in the hospital, or worse, was having a baby and it was another boy.  It was funniest when Jan read, “And please do NOT call him Douglas” to the youngest, Doug.  So my dearest Jill held strong opinions at age nine and could articulately express them.

We each mutely read the neatly typed letter wherein Philip, their dad, said he had not had sexual relations with the woman he had run off with over the weekend, and he would return as pastor if all could be forgiven.

Steve quietly sorted the box with all of the bills that Phil returned unpaid to the hospital, pharmacy, and utility company after he left for good with the woman and emptied all of the accounts.

And I was struck by the probability that all great fiction, all award winning plays are barely recognizable shadows of authors’ families, or the shattered family of friends, or the shattering family at home.

And all these years later, the siblings taking cues from the astounding woman of God they had as mother, these siblings who had visited the man of unpaid bills in the nursing home as he wept and laughed with them, were choosing what will go to flame tonight in a bonfire of vanities, joys, and deep realities.  And they cho0se what to give to children and grandchildren.

Doug, who happens to be an award winning woodcarver has carried out one last wish from Nana, Barbara, and carved a final resting box for her ashes, kept safe in the plastic bag in which they were delivered over a year ago.  And on Sunday we will decant her ashes, as reverently as the siblings decanted the correspondences, savored them, laughed and wept over them.  We will decant them into Doug’s box preparing them for February when these four proud children of Barbara K Johnson will head to a windswept cemetery in South Dakot to send her ashes on a slow journey of becoming one with the dust of Alcester from whence she came.

And that will be the end of it, unless you know anything about Jesus and final banquets at the juncture of time and eternity, where we will decant life in the limited way we know it here, as an aperitif toward heaven.

On Being A Yankee Fan

On being a Yankee’s fan

When I was a child, my family sojourned from Texas’ sweltering coast out to New Mexico to a sprawling Baptist convention center called Glorieta.  It accommodated 3,000 people using a staff of retirees that oversaw a few hundred college students working for God and very little money. 

Some division of the Sunday School Board trained each week all summer and all held worship every night of the summer except Fridays.  My mother’s parents, my Mamma and Pappaw, managed various posts and spent their summers up there. 

A child from the Texas Gulf Coast wearing a sweater in July?  Climbing over boulders, chasing Horned Toads, seeing deer, and going rock hunting on afternoons to find mine tailings of white quartz interlaced with rose — these comprised as good a picture of Heaven as I needed to that point. 

And in the evenings I raptly listened to music from musicians around the country in choirs, orchestras, and an organ that shook my chest — except when Mammaw could get the Yankees on her little transistor TV with rabbit ears.  We hid out in her hotel room. 

Mammaw added her own coverage about Marris, Mantle, Yogi and the Boys of Summer like a school girl swooning at Elvis.  I watched a grainy four-inch screen where the diamond was easy to recognize, but Marris and Mantle looked like identical grainy twins.  How did she know which was which?

When the Yankees were ahead, all was marvelous.  When the world’s evil forces arose to thwart them, it drove my Mammaw to the closest swear word in her extensive vocabulary — “Bears!” 

So the Yankees, God, the Mountains, astounding choral and orchestral music all formed one seamless, living and breathing snapshot of Heaven for me. 

Fan for life.  That included Steinbrenner and Reggie, Mr. October, Jackson who came, and like summer faded in their times. 

And in this latest instantiation it included the Rocket, Pettite, The Captain, and Mariano Rivera, who along with others led a Bible study in that hallowed ground while quietly making others fan his career into the Hall of Fame. 

The Yankees are hopelessly out of the playoffs.  They will rebuild.  Mariano is the next-to-last member of a team that came together — to leave.  He played his last game this week, and he could have rolled every pitch to home plate; Yankee fans would still have stood to give an ovation to one of their longest serving, brightest Boys of Summer.  And Mammaw?  She cheered from Heaven because the best Yankees love God, and the organ music as it fills the park, and the orchestral smack of the bats, gloves, and crowds; and when the air gets cold in October as in the Mountains?  Then they play their best.