As I Gather [The Incompletes Collection]

I’ve had a small… realization.

My realization was this, as I sat in a wall-to-wall filled workshop at Youth Conference today. We were asked to think of a moment of happiness we’ve had.

And I could not remember one. Not one.

It isn’t that I haven’t had happy moments; I know I’ve had happy moments. But I could not dredge one thing up. And immediately my mind goes to all the speakers who have talked about being free from bondage and I want to say “Yeah, I’m free…” while half of me comes back with “No you’re not…” and the other half of me says “What bondage?”

Because there are obvious things – things I’ve shared – that have been sources of bondage to me, but the truth is the obvious ones aren’t the ones sticking out; I don’t even know what, or if I’m in bondage–but I cannot remember one single moment of happiness in my life. I hear this question echoing over and over in my head, ‘Think of a moment of happiness…’ and my mind just goes completely blank.

And it still does. Maybe it’s just my extreme idealistic biased mind but no moment I can think of really fits the bill, and frankly I can’t think of very many specific moments. Like uh.. am I even alive here?

The truth is I’ve always been reclusive, but over the course of the last few years I can feel myself drifting further back into those ways; still sociable–now more than ever as my comfort levels have expanded–but much less engaged. I can point to times when I was well-engaged in my relationships–now those were good, happy moments–but my circle of close friends has waned to little more than a mud puddle. It’s not good to be alone.

Father whatever sort of season this is, I don’t much like it.

But I guess this is what they all meant when they said some people are only for a season. But I digress. Perhaps the only bondage I have is wishing for more.

*                               *                                 *

I bumped into someone recently who I’ve been acquainted with most of my life, but like so many others, haven’t seen in quite a while.

One thought that often comes to me is, those people that I know from a distance, who I’ve grown up around and some of whom have had impacts on my life–when I see them now and then around (driving the opposite direction on the road, two customers ahead or behind in line in the grocery store, passing through my workplaces, etc.) Do they recognize me?

I mean if I recognize them, it would be ridiculous to suppose they wouldn’t recognize me–but…do you recognize me?

Do you ackowledge my presence–that it is indeed….me? (And that you have known me?) I know it has been a few years, that I have grown and changed–somewhat–and maybe you can’t imagine approaching me as you might have but…do you see me?

This time, this person that I bumped into answered the question for me with a, “Hi, how are you? … I haven’t seen you around in a long time.”

*                               *                                 *

As the minutes tick on into the New Year, the gathering is nearly over. Today I drive back home after a three-day ‘weekend’ to start work again tomorrow; until the next holiday brings us all back together again, this is it for me.

I know I’ve written about this before, but something came to my mind again through the holidays, it’s a song my family used to sing occasionally at the dinner table; a casual ritual from days gone. But when it sprang back to my mind (and I realized that I could actually remember all the words although in all those years I never really knew them) I realized again what it has always meant to me.

As our family gathers ’round this table / Where this meal has been prepared

Let all our hearts be grateful / As we offer up this prayer…

Our Father in heaven / For this meal we’ve been given

We want to say, “Thank-you, thank-you,” from our hearts

Bless the hands that prepared it / And now as we share it

Would You stay with us, and be our guest of honor

Would You stay with us, and be our guest of honor

Amen.

If my parents ever did anything to teach me the values of prayer, family, and the connection of the meal table, it was all wrapped up in this simple song.

*                               *                                 *

Meet Lexi;

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This gorgeous calico joined my little furry family a couple months back and settled right in happily. She is the most friendly cat I’ve ever met, and adorably cuddly–she chose this position herself.

And tonight as I’m listening to her soft snore-purr next to me I’m thinking about one thing.

Lexi is a rescue kitty. I discovered her at work one day (I won’t even begin to surmise how a stray ends up at a landfill in the winter kilometers from the nearest home) when I noticed muffled meowing under the floor of the cabin serving as our office–and upon investigation, noticed tracks outside in the snow. After two weeks, although I had not seen even a glimpse of her yet, she was responding to my voice with the most pitiable meows, and I finally coaxed her into the open with a few bread crusts from my lunch. This was within the first 60 seconds of our officially meeting:

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She was badly matted all the way around her neck, she was starved for want of food and she was starved for want of human contact.

I don’t mind telling you, I don’t really like cats – but how could I say no to that? So the next day, she came home with me.

It took a few weeks, both to get her back up to a normal weight, and to cut all the mats out of her fur, she being obviously relieved by the freedom but most impatient with the process which usually involved scissors and a lot of squirming on her part. But here she is, a now well-fed, mat-free cat with a warm house to live in and an obnoxiously huge pup who never gets tired of being swatted on the nose and hissed at. This might just be the life, and if those contented snore-purrs are anything to go by, I’d say she agrees.

I’m thinking about rest tonight–ironically, because I’m losing sleep with every word I write. Ironically because I’ve felt so un-rested and overwhelmed and I asked Father for one thing – rest.

And I look over at Lexi, peacefully sleeping next to me and that’s the kind of rest I want; the kind that isn’t worried anymore about the next meal because all she has to do is meow her most piteous meow to get a top-up; that isn’t curling up on the cold ground under an unheated shack; that isn’t skinny and starving both for food and love. A rest that is cared for and confident. And I realize, I’ve already had it.

I realize, I couldn’t have left a steady job (that I was actually content at) to move back to my hometown with zero work certainty, without that rest. Not with the amount of anxiety I normally carry around. I couldn’t have spent this last summer completely

29511016_10156324690062053_7210513218408941391_nunsure about the future of the part-time work I did acquire knowing that it was all coming to a certain end in the fall without that rest. And it’s not just that I’m not easily phased, because I am. And I’m normally anxious about things. But for the last two years of uncertainty I haven’t worried one bit and I was so at rest that I didn’t even clue in to the fact that I wasn’t worrying about things that I should probably be worrying about. And listen, when you only work 2 days a week you are not short on time; I had all the time in the world to worry, I certainly wasn’t preoccupied. But I didn’t and I can’t credit that to any kind of stolidness of my own; I found my rest.

 

The preceding are short and/or unfinished drafts written over the span of the last year, each containing a drop of very deep meaning and emotion for me, experiences which are wordlessly poignant, and therefore much more brief than what I typically publish stand-alone. As always, thanks for reading, and I hope you’ve gleaned something of these.

Sunlight (Encounters II)

The sun arose on a sleeping city, the man-made lights fading as the Creator’s warmth touched the cold buildings. The warmth touched the morning dew resting on the grass, and also her face as she stirred from her place on the cold ground, covered only by a few scraps of an old cardboard box. The sun lit up her eyes.

It was the magical time of the morning before the rest of the world wakes up—but she was awake. She shifted in her paper home and finally rolled over and sat up, bent over within the box. She pushed back the thick coat which covered her—the most valued of her possessions—and rubbed her eyes; another day in paradise after a long night.

She ran her fingers over the tracks up her arm and let out a sigh. Business as usual. She clamoured up from her sagging bed and glanced around casually, surveying the geography of the fresh morning. Her practiced eyes immediately picked out the man–slightly slouched–across the park on a bench, his back turned to her. Unusual? Perhaps. Odd? Definitely, but perhaps this was just another providential opportunity. She stood up coolly and sauntered nonchalantly toward the figure.

“Ashlynn—”

She stopped abruptly and spun around. No one behind her. No one anywhere—except the figure on the bench before her. Yet she could have sworn someone had called her name. But that was foolishness, wasn’t it? Her clients knew her only by aliases, and no one else knew her name; she was the nameless faceless, and that’s how she liked it.

“Ashlynn Jennifer Hayes…”

But there it came again, and still no one in sight but the man sitting motionless on the bench not ten feet in front of her. Her imagination must be psyching her out. And then the figure turned around.

“I see you,”

He was tall; dark, wavy hair and tanned skin. His eyes were a striking brown. She was taken aback and halted immediately under his gaze. His face was rough and wrinkled, but she couldn’t have guessed his age; he appeared ancient with the countenance of a child. “I see you,” he repeated. She had no idea what to say; she couldn’t break off his strong gaze. She was nearly ready to turn and run.

He smiled.

“Don’t be afraid, I mean you no harm,” he said, his smile radiating through her into the very core of her. Who was this man? Where did he come from?

“Who are you?” she demanded, remembering at last where she had left her cold front.

“I am Myself,” he replied, still smiling. “I go by many names.” A lunatic for certain; she took a step backwards. The street had taught her one thing – the appropriateness of running. He stood up and she turned to run. “Jennifer,” she froze. “I’m not here to harm you.”

She spun back around to face him.

“How do you know my name? Who do you think you are?” her fear welled up into a defensive anger, “what do you want from me?”

“What do you want from yourself?” his smile never wavered; it unnerved her. “Won’t you join me?” he beckoned toward the bench. She shook her head.

“No thank-you.”

“Yet you came over here with a little more in mind, didn’t you,” he caught her eyes right then and a terrible knowing look. She shrugged, shrinking silently away from his gaze. “Suite yourself,” he settled back down sideways on the bench, watching her intently, “Leave if you like, but there are things I’d like to tell you.”

She took another step back.

“How do I know you won’t do anything?”

“You can’t,” he replied simply. She was wary, but he was not altogether threatening. In fact, his voice was soft and serene—calming and melodious almost. But there was the knowledge behind his eyes, and she now knew what was in his look that terrified her; it was as though he looked straight into her.

“How do you know my name?” she asked again, her curiosity getting the better of her circumspection. He was turned away now, intently watching a sparrow perched in a low, nearby tree.

“Oh that’s easy, it’s Ashlynn,” he smiled, and turned back to the sparrow

“No, no, no, how do you know my name?” she demanded, “I already know who I am, thanks.”

“Do you really?” he countered her, turning back around to look her in the eye, “Not nearly as well as I know you.” And she saw it–was that sorrow in his eye? Something leapt inside her, but she held her guard against it and shoved the alien feeling back to the pits of her uneasy stomach.

“I don’t—”

“Ashlynn, I know you better than you know yourself; I’ve been intimately involved in your life for quite some time,” he cut her off.

“What are you talking about?” she tried harder to push the feeling back down, she realized now it was his presence; she had felt it from the moment she laid eyes on him, perhaps even before that. She couldn’t help but feel that he was safe, and what he said was true—but how? She couldn’t even begin to guess what he meant.

“You may not know this, but I adopted you years ago,” the memories of her foster years were far too vivid for her to doubt; many people had adopted her. But she had been no more than a face in the system, and none of these “adoptions” had ever carried through—or so she had been told. Perhaps he had done it quietly.

“If that’s true,” she began hesitantly, unsure of whether to give him the satisfaction of a response or not, “where have you been all this time? I was out of the system years ago.”

“And you’re nineteen now—though much harder to tell now for the drugs you started using two years ago to numb the pain—your parents abandoned you to the system and you went from house to house, always hoping the next would be a place you could call home… but it never was.”

She was wholly overwhelmed.

“How do you know all that?” she stammered, taken fully aback at his revelation of her. And then she looked in his eyes and saw the pain in them—for her.

“I know a lot about you Jennifer,” he replied, still smiling a sad smile. “I’ve always been nearby.” She didn’t know what to think.

“How am I to believe any of that stuff?”

“Believe it or don’t, but it is true,” he replied. “It doesn’t matter; you know it is.”

And she did. She stood back, not sure whether to speak or walk away—she knew she couldn’t cry, even if she could let herself now, the tears would never come as they used to. So she did something different, though she didn’t know why. She knelt down in the grass at the end of the bench and simply watched him. What she was waiting for she could not have said, but there was something in just watching him—a security. He remained silent, seemingly paying no heed as he continued to eye the sparrow which still flitted through the shrubs. Several minutes went by, and then he spoke,

“Ashlynn, just let the pain go.”

She bit her lip as tears welled behind her eyes, but she had not been quick enough, and a lone tear found its way to her eyelid. She shut her eyes tight and dropped her head, employing every effort to stifle the emotions which threatened her composure and her new-found comfort with this stranger. She didn’t know how long it was that she sat there—an hour if it hadn’t been a few minutes—but all was silent.

The sun touched her skin. His hand touched her arm. She started back, jerked her head up and opened her eyes. He was kneeling next to her in the grass, now looking into her eyes, his hand on her arm. She waited, all words now gone from her mind. His voice was soft, “Ashlynn, let grief have its place.”

She wept.

She could hold it back no longer. His presence, his look—those eyes—endearing her. And she could hardly help but say no; her heart in its deepest depths craved it. He rested his other hand gently on her shoulder closest to him and waited as she knelt there in the grass sobbing quietly, the tears flowing freely now. His touch was warm and reassuring.

“Why do I feel this way?” her tears finally slowed, but she remained with her face downcast.

“There is much pain in you, it is ready to be freed,” he replied. “Ashlynn, it is very important that you do this for yourself—for your future.” She suddenly became reserved once again and lifted her face defiantly.

“Who do you think you are to say these things? You don’t know who I am! You don’t know where I’ve been!” she nearly screamed it at him, completely taken now with anger spurned on by her vulnerability. “You have no idea what I’m carrying!” she became aware that where his hand touched her bare arm the tracks of the needle were visible, “and I stopped that a long time ago,” she cried bitterly, and she pushed his hand back and pulled her sleeve down to cover the marks.

“But I do know what you’ve been through; I’ve seen it all. I know how often the only place you can find to sleep is made of paper,” he gestured toward the box near the street, “I know that you stopped heroine once; you’ve stopped four times since you started. You spent all you had two days ago to go back to it; it put you back on the street every time you went back.” He paused a moment, letting this settle, then continued, still speaking gently. “I know how long you’ve been selling yourself just to make ends meet, and not only that, but to feel valued,” he finished.

She burst into tears, but this time rather than pulling away she flung herself on him; his words could have had no better affect. She clung to him and he wrapped his arms around her in a tender embrace. “I see you, I know you and I love you, Ashlynn,” he whispered into her ear, “I know all your hurts; please let me help you.”

She let go.

“Why would you want to help me? How can you love someone like me? I’m dirty, I’m ugly…”  He brought a finger to her lips in a motion of silence. “But how,” she went on after a moment, “could you ever see past what I’ve done if you knew? How could you see past these marks on my arms?” she suddenly felt a filth of guilt and shame on her.

“Oh Ashlynn, I’ve been waiting a long time for this moment!” His eyes suddenly lighted up, “I love you because I created you!” She was at a total loss—and it dawned on her; how could she be so blind? And yet—

“Jesus Christ—!” she swore.

“—the Christ,” he corrected her, “But I prefer if you call me Daddy.” He grinned, “I think that would mean more to you, too, don’t you think?” she nearly burst into tears again; the most she could do was nod, caught as she was in surprise and raw emotion. How could she not believe it now that he had reached in to touch the very depth of her secret heart?

“But how could you see past who I am?” she blurted out, “even you—especially you!” He gently rolled up his left sleeve.

“Ashlynn, I look beyond what you’ve done, because my father looked at what I’ve done. My purpose and desire was never to condemn you,” He said, holding out his hand. She couldn’t say a word. There was the mark in his wrist, a rough, deep scar that would never fade for all eternity. And now she noticed for the first time the other marks—the scars on his brow—and she could hardly bear it; she knew they were for her. “Now do you understand?” he asked, knowing already the answer. She nodded, and embraced him again.

“Jennifer,” she gazed up at him, nestled in his arms on the grass. A sparrow perched on the edge of the nearby bench, watching them intently. “I have to go now,” he said, holding her even closer to his chest. She loved the sound of his heart.

“What will I do without you?” she asked sadly, wishing she could prolong this somehow, “How will I go on? I’ve come so close to ending it all so many times already…”

“Oh darling, I’m always with you!” He smiled sincerely and bent down, kissing her forehead. “I love you too much to not be with you every minute.”

“But where have you been then?”

“You’re living in an awful place…” he said sadly, looking around, “we can’t experience each other here like this all the time, face to face… but one day soon I’ll never have to leave your sight, and we will spend Forever just like this.”

She understood, and a longing tear found its way down her cheek.

“Jesus?”

“Please, call me Daddy.”

The sun arose on a sleeping city, the man-made lights fading as the Creator’s warmth touched the cold buildings. The warmth touched the morning dew resting on the grass, and also her face as she stirred from her place. The sun lit up her eyes.

Had it all been a dream? But no, she could even now feel the warmth of his kiss lingering with her, the sound of his voice and the safety of his touch. “Always with me…” she murmured softly to herself, raising herself up into a sitting position within her box.

A sparrow began to sing nearby.

“Daddy.”

Tears - Encounters I

Tears and Sunlight (Encounters I and II) are explicitly under my authorship; you can share it, but it's still mine.