Trying to live love well through the power of the Everlasting.
Amy Mitchell wrote a brilliant post entitled, “Friends with Agendas.” What clinched it for me?
Here’s my message to my non-Christian friends:
I chose you because I like you. We have things in common, we have kids the same age, I find you interesting and fun, and I like being with you. This is the same way I pick all my friends, regardless of religion. I didn’t choose you because I’m using you as my personal mission field. Should you have an interest in talking about spiritual things, I’m here. But I enjoy your company and I’m glad to hang with you no matter what we talk about.
That’s just the part that I liked the best, but the entire article is worth reading, in my opinion. I liked it all! Amy, thank you. You put words to something that’s been bugging me for a long time.
I remembered today that I’m supposed to be, I guess, the “fallen” guy.
Do you know what I mean there?
Growing up in the North American Christian circuit, there’s always a “fallen” person. You know, it usually goes something like, “Oh, there’s Albert… he’s the one that got caught having an affair with his boss, and then left his wife and kids. He hasn’t been seen in church for months… so that tells you all you need to know, I guess.”
You know, that guy. Or gal. If you’ve spent any amount of time being alive and being around people, you’ve probably experienced this in some way. I was reminded today that I’m one of those fallen guys.
I haven’t been to church in almost nine months, I think. Something fairly close to that. Well, I work Sundays from 8:00 am until 6:00 pm, and then I work evenings during the week. Any time that any local churches have established services or group meetings, I’m working.
There once was a great Queen who ruled over a small but lovely country in a world very much like ours is today. She fulfilled all of the duties and responsibilities set forth for the government in the constitution, and did so lovingly and well, with the heart of a leader who cherishes her people. Among the populace she was beloved, and they trusted her to use her power continually for good.
But one day the Queen announced that her presence was required abroad. In order to prevent war and certain invasion, the beloved monarch was to join other world leaders in a city thousands of miles away, with the goal of formulating a plan to save the planet’s people from destruction. In her stead, she left her powers with a Viceroy. It would be his duty to perform as the Queen, and rule in her stead, until she was able to return. She warned her people that with such an unstable geopolitical forum, she could not be certain of exactly when her return would be possible.
Months passed, and the Viceroy watched things go rather smoothly. But soon after his one year anniversary of holding power for the Queen, the daily running of the country saw a shift. Instead of weighing options through the Queen’s guidelines and principles, the Viceroy instead began passing laws and making judgements based on his own observations and interpretations. Thus he began passing laws that required people to emulate qualities and circumstances that he believed the Queen admired, rather than looking to govern in a way that fostered the love and well-being that formed the heart of the Queen’s laws. Whenever anyone challenged him on this, he would bully them into submission by reminding them that surely he, as the Queen’s chosen Viceroy, knew her heart and mind much more thoroughly than any other.
“Surely there could be no one else better qualified to know Her Majesty’s true mind,” he argued, “than me?”
The people’s love for their Queen, and their trust in her, overcame their hesitation to trust the Viceroy, and they submitted to his new rule. After two more years, the average citizen’s memory of the Queen and her true heart had faded entirely, replaced instead with the Viceroy”s propoganda. Even if the people could remember the Queen’s heart behind the government, they had no time to contemplate the gap between the memory and the current reality, for under the Viceroy’s reign the people were divided into two groups: those who became rich with power, stature, influence, and possessions, and those who were oppressed and impoverished.
The rich didn’t want to think too hard on the Queen’s heart, lest they risk upsetting the comfort and stability of their daily lives. The poor had not time or energy to think on the Queen, as heavy burdens were placed on their shoulders, food and shelter were denied them, and false charges of heinous crimes were brought against them at random.
So it was in this sad state that the Queen saw her people when she returned secretly in the night, finally victorious after so many years. From the moment she stepped off the plane and slid into the backseat of her limo, she sensed something was wrong. The elation of brokering a world-wide peace after years of labor vanished, and instead her heart was filled with horror and heartbreak as she witnessed the slums that now filled the streets.
Upon seeing a young man curled up in an alley, the Queen ordered her car to stop. She walked over to the homeless man and knelt at his side. She could see damp spots on his shirt where blood from a severe beating hadn’t yet had time to dry, and it was clear from his face that he was extremely malnourished. When he realized who she was, the young man jerked backwards and his eyes filled with terror.
“Please, Your Majesty! Mercy! Mercy! I’m so sorry for anything – everything! Please leave me in peace tonight! No more!” At his last request, his eyes looked beyond her to her guards, and the terror in them couldn’t keep back the tears that sprang forth.
The Queen’s heart was broken, and she reached her hand out to touch the young man’s face. Once again he jerked away quickly, and cowered against the wall.
“My dear,” the Queen managed to choke out. “Who has done this to you? Which abysmally foolish person assumed they had the authority to treat you like this?”
The man looked incredulously at his monarch, and finally answered her.
“The Viceroy and his men, ma’am. Was it not Your Majesty’s pleasure to have me and those like me just as you see us now?” He held out his hands to indicate the rest of the alley, where faces were peering out of boxes and mounds of trash. “We know that the laws are in place to make the kingdom reflect what you wish it to be.”
The Queen knew in an instant that there was no deceit in the man’s eyes. With one simple hand gesture, she assigned members of her entourage the task of helping the people in alley. With another she summoned the young man to follow her to her car, and with a word she set the driver on a determined course towards the Palace.
By the time she reached the Palace gates, the Queen’s fury had grown red hot. She charged through the doors and into the throne room, where she surveyed the dais before her. A large, dusty throne – her own – was nearly hidden from view by an overstuffed and gaudy chair that was clearly of the Viceroy’s design. The latter she immediately pushed over and left, on its side, toppled to the floor.
When the Viceroy entered, the Queen sat down purposefully and quietly in her long-abandoned post, and simply fixed her gaze on her trembling official.
Eventually she asked, “What explanation can you give me for the state I find my people in?” With that, she stood and placed her hand gently on the shoulder of the young man from the alley, looking so out of place in the regal room.
The Viceroy stumbled over words and phrases, desperately attempting to explain himself to the Queen.
“Your Majesty – knew that you trusted me, sure that you trusted my interpretation of your laws! The chair – sure that you’d want me to be rewarded and treated with respect and honor as your regent! The people – criminals, my lady! They didn’t love or honor your ways! Not as I did! I – that is – they – er – and the economy! Down, needed forced laborers to survive – and the moral fabric of the nation – shambles! All in all… you know, punish the sinners and reward the faithful! And then -”
The Queen lifted a finger and the Viceroy’s voice vanished as if an invisible hand had been slapped over his mouth.
“Did you forget, or did you ever understand, that the most valuable and treasured thing you were trusted with was care of the people? Of all of the people? That my heart – the purpose of my government and life’s work – is entirely about the human beings in my charge, and their well being?
But your crimes, throne steward, go beyond forgetting my heart. You established a system that lied to my people about everything that matters most. Your government – in my name – taught them that they are not loved. It taught them to fear me as a dictator rather than love me as their Mother. Taught them to expect cruelty and injustice from my hand instead of mercy, love, and provision.”
As she ended her speech, the Queen reached forward and gently drew the young homeless man into an embrace. Her beleaguered subject melted into her arms, won over by the revealing of her heart towards himself and his fellow citizens. With a tear-filled gaze, the Queen fixed her eyes on the Viceroy and ordered he be stripped of his authority and rank.
With a hollow voice the now-rankless man asked what was to become of him.
The Queen stepped slowly forward and said, “Be thankful that you have a monarch that seeks to do well by all of her people. My mercy can be great. Have a care, and search your heart. You may still yet have a future at my side someday.”
Then she nodded to the guards, and the man who had been Viceroy was escorted out.
Roughly 24 years ago, my mother and father packed up myself, my older brother, and my younger sister and moved us back home. For a few years, my parents had lived in a different town as they focused on building their own family unit, separate from their extended families. But by the time my mother became pregnant for #4 (otherwise known as my sister Jennifer) they’d decided to bring us back home, to the tiny town in which they both grew up. To plug back into the family farm of which my father was a member of the fifth generation. So my grandparents gave them a plot of land, about an acre and a half, on the edge of the farm where they could build a house.
And build they did! We moved into the house when I was four years old. The house was surrounded by red pine trees, because my great-grandmother had hired the town’s young men to plant several acres of them on “the Hill” where her fields used to be. In order to build, my dad had to log out enough trees to make space for a house and a small lawn. And I do mean a small lawn! I remember, at first, the patch of grass around us that disappeared into the dark pine forest which, to a kid, was a magical and dangerous place.
As the years went by and our family grew, so did the need for space. By the time the “Original Six” children of our family were present and accounted for, we had run out of space to play in the lawn. So my grandfather and father logged out a new space for us – a great big lawn that had more than enough room for us.
By that time, though, my older brother and I were old enough to start helping with the outside chores. Such as mowing the new, large lawn. Oh, how I hated it at first! With only a small push mower and such an expansive yard, it really was quite a task. My brother and I shared it, though, and it was never quite too much for either one of us. Although I do suspect that he may have pulled far more than his fair share for me. He was always doing things like that, my big brother. He’s just one of those guys that are just… good.
Anyway, when he left for college, I was left alone in the lawncare department. I didn’t mind quite so much by that point, because in addition to the push mower we also now had a riding mower. The riding mower covered the vast majority of the lawn, but because our house is built into a hill there are sections of the lawn that are too dangerous to mow on a riding mower, so a push mower is (still is, in fact) required to finish the job. With the advance of technology, and with the finances provided by my summer job teaching swimming lessons, mowing the lawn became a refuge where I could listen to my music on my trusty Walkman (later Discman) and just have a few hours to myself.
It was during that season of life that I began to open my eyes to the neglected sections of my parent’s property. I began to view the abandoned pasture next to our house as potential. I began to view the sloping hills down to the stream as potential. The old horse corral on top of the hill, behind the house, that never got used anymore? Potential. So over the period of two years, I slowly but surely began to extend the boundaries of the lawn. Areas that had long been left alone to grow up to brush were cleared out and mowed. The beautiful stone wall was cleaned up and became a breathtakingly beautiful backdrop for the property. Trees were pruned and thinned, rose bushes and lilac bushes planted, and the stumps of the old pine trees removed.
Eventually, we possessed a beautiful and expansive lawn that really was quite something when it was taken care of.
Now, all these years later, I find myself 27 years old and here again, for the foreseeable season. The lawn has only gotten better, and with my eyes and hands it’s going to improve even more. My mother and I spent yesterday morning (Mondays and Tuesdays are my weekends) planting a beautiful flower bed in front of the deck. When the bulbs come up, it’ll be spectacular. We had some leftover gladiola bulbs, so I walked the lawn looking for just the right spot to plant them. I reached the far corner of the lawn, up on the hill, where my mother’s rose bushes are really taking off. I stopped and surveyed the property from its highest point, and suddenly I realized something: that the old cow pasture the adjoins our lawn on that side is just that now: an old cow pasture. And that big, beautiful cherry tree that stretches out its branches so? Well, there’s no reason for it to be on the other side of the fence now, is there?
And come to think of it, there’s no reason why we can’t move that fence back a good twenty feet now, is there? At one point there was a massive brush pile there, composed of all the branches and stumps of the trees from clearing out the space for the house. But that pile is gone now, and even the traces of it can easily be cleared away to bring in the lawn mowers. And as I stood there under that cherry tree, standing in land that until just that moment had only ever been thought of as ugly pasture, I realized that when this little plot has been given the same treatment the rest of the lawn has received… it very well may be the most beautiful spot on the property. Looking to my left from that massive tree I can see our house and the lawns, looking so nicely mowed and green. And looking to my right, on the top of the hill, I can see the entire town stretched out below with the lovely river snaking right through the heart of it.
My breath caught in my chest as I imagined my family, ten years from now, laughing and playing under that cherry tree, with the incredible view going on for what seems like miles.
And as I thought about that, it suddenly hit me: life is this. My walk with Papa, and my walk in this world, happen like this.
With a lot of work and enough time, something beautiful and brilliant is fashioned. Not overnight, but over years.
With a lot of work, and enough time.
Beauty, truth, wisdom, knowledge, grace, patience…. growth.
Growth takes time.