One of my mother-in-law’s favorite toys is the paddle with the ball attached by a rubber band where you hit the ball and it comes racing back and you see how many times you can hit it without missing.
My life feels a lot like that ball over the last few weeks. Ginger and I both find hope in times like these in the chorus of one of Nanci Griffith’s songs:
these days my life is an open book
missing pages I cannot seem to find
these days your face in my memory
is in a folded hands of grace against these times
I have bounced from Boston to some Southern destination and then coming flying back to get whacked around a bit and head South once more. Over Memorial Day weekend, we were in Memphis for my nephew’s graduation; last weekend we were in Birmingham for my in-laws’ fiftieth wedding anniversary; and in a week and a half we head to Jackson, Mississippi on our youth mission trip.
I’m grateful to say, as the ball in this scenario, that the rubber band has held – so far.
The bookends to my weekend were the anniversary celebration in Birmingham and Children’s Day at the church in Hanover. Ginger worked hard putting together a meaningful celebration for her parents. What her folks knew was happening was family and friends were gathering for a reception at the church building where Ginger grew up (the church has since moved to a new site). What they didn’t know was Ginger had arranged a ceremony for the renewal of their vows in the sanctuary where she and I were married. Rachel and Reuben were married in a house and never had a church ceremony, which Rachel has always lamented. She was thrilled. Fifty years on, Rachel and Reuben said out loud the promises they have incarnated for most of their lives, creating a wide spot in the road of time where we could all celebrate with them and enjoy being together in sacred space.
My job was to cater the reception. I flew into Birmingham on Thursday, shopped Friday morning, cooked Friday afternoon and evening, and flew home on Saturday. (And yes, my arms were tired.) I got home about midnight, hugged Schnauzers, and then got up the next morning to get ready for Children’s Day. My job there was to help with food as well.
Church life in New England has a different rhythm than Baptist life in Texas. Summer time in Baptist youth ministry was busy time: we geared up for camp and all kinds of special activities. Summer in New England means life slows way down. We move to an abbreviated summer worship service without Sunday School and most committees take a break for a month or two. It is often said that even God goes to Cape Cod for the summer. Children’s Day marks the end of the regular church year. Part of our tradition is an all-church picnic after worship. Along with burgers and hotdogs, there are sack races, an egg toss, and a pudding eating contest.
We had a perfect day for our picnic and, for a couple of hours, we all got to step out of time and enjoy being together in a wide spot of our own on time’s road, equally sacred but a little messier.
As the pudding eating contest began, the kids gathered around a table lined with plastic plates, each one holding a glob of pudding. The challenge was to snarf the pudding without using your hands. Some kids were pudding high just standing next tot he table; others had to kneel to get to the proper height. Once they all got going, I noticed an untouched plate at the table and I couldn’t resist. I dropped to my knees and began to do some snarfing of my own. I didn’t care about winning. I did care about eating pudding and getting to feel the joyful abandon I saw on the chocolate covered faces of the kids at the table.
After the picnic, I came home and crashed for a couple of hours in front of a Red Sox game and then stopped by a graduation party for one of the seniors in our youth group before going to Senior High Fellowship, our Sunday night high school gathering. Andy was the guest of honor at the graduation party. His family and friends filled up his backyard to mark his milestone with him, much as Rachel and Reuben’s folks had gathered with them only a couple of nights before. I was glad I got to be there, too.
These are days that don’t afford me much more than drive-by sacredness. I feel as though I’m passing through these moments rather than being in them, in some sense, even as I’ve been able to share In the celebration and joy. Just over a month ago we were tromping through Greece and Turkey, living days that were clocks without hands, resting in the layers of history that surrounded us, with time to both be present and reflect on what was happening to us.
I’m grateful to have been able to live those days.
I’m also grateful for these days, packed with everything from t-shirt orders to tomato plants, pudding to Pentecost, Boston to Birmingham. God shows up in everything from fiery pillars to still, small voices – even flesh and bone. As I bounce back and forth, I keep reminding myself – and keep asking to be reminded – that grace travels well at any speed.