What Forgiveness Tastes Like

(I wanted to title this “The Night We Ate Tacos & Nobody Got Hurt.” Read on to find out why.)

Family gatherings around life events are often joyous, emotional occasions. Wedding preparations take the cake when it comes to lots of Big Feelings. Mix the mother of the groom, the father of the bride, siblings, relatives—shirt-tail or otherwise—and there is sure to be no shortage of rough edges on the Big Day. Everyone involved has an investment in the couples’ happiness. Or at least an opinion, (“They paid HOW much for the honeymoon?!”)

Pressure for the event to be Pinterest ®perfect is not helped by the fact that those who are invited into the picture are often strangers. The bride and groom know and love each of their friends, but rarely do all the friends and relatives know or necessarily love each other. Even when they’re in the same family.

My nephew was married six summers ago. To celebrate the occasion of her only child, my sister invited my other siblings (there are 5 of us altogether) and respective spouses to stay with her during Wedding Week. She has a large home in Southern California and we had all visited one time or another. However, there would be at least 8 of us coming and going; this would be one great sleep over.

Mornings and evenings were chillaxing times over meals, telling the same old jokes, teasing each other the way only family can do. There was an ease about the early morning coffee quiet and comfortable dinner table conversations. We enjoyed late nights on the patio listening to a backdrop of crickets or inside listening to the electronic ‘plink’ of Words with Friends (on our separate devices while sitting in the same room. Of course.)

My sister informed us she’d planned a luncheon the day before W’s wedding, sort of an ice-breaker/get-to-know-each-other time with the groom, his Best Man from college in Texas, and…her ex-husband. Maybe it was just me, but her announcement seemed to swallow all the air in the room, as if the stucco walls inhaled a bit, holding their breath. This could a very tricky situation.

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This post originally appeared over at Grace Table. You can read the rest of the story over there.  

Songs/Life

My brothers are strumming their guitars in my sister’s living room and I’m thinking of the miracle of it all, how our mother loved to sing and each of these men taught themselves to play beautiful music because of that gift and their love for words and song.

The miracle is I’m here to witness it, when I think of our collective pasts, the five of us siblings bereft of parents at an early age, fatherless as teenagers, motherless soon after.  We ultimately raised ourselves, me as the big sister and chief Bossy Person and always in charge. My mother worked, we were left alone a lot. Our father gambled, we were poor……the list goes on and on.  Alcoholism affected us all.

I thought it was all on me, this care and concern, but listening to the stories we shared last weekend as we were together, it’s clear there was a hand larger than our own keeping us all these years.

I heard a song right before I left on our trip to see my family for this wedding weekend occasion–a recording by Amy Grant and my all-time, from way-back-in-the-past favorite vocalist–James Taylor.

Just hearing his voice takes me back to my teenage years and the memories flood in of life in that landscape of wandering….God was with me through it all.

Some online friends and I have been discussing the fact that many of us grew up feeling unworthy–of having any joy, of feeling important or valued or loved. Is it okay to want my dreams? Do my needs really matter? It is an area in my life Jesus is beginning to deal with and heal little by little.

The words of this song (Don’t try So Hard–Amy Grant, with James Taylor) brought the tears streaming down my face as I stood in our kitchen, thinking about God’s great love for me, right there, right then, through the words and music.

We’re lovely even with our scars.

Don’t Try So Hard-Amy Grant, Benjamin Glover, Capitol Christian Music
Another Monday comes and I just wanna breathe
‘Cause it’s a long, long week for someone wired to please
I keep taking my aim
Pushing it higher
Wanna shine bright
Even brighter now
Wish I could tell myself
Don’t try so hard
God gives you grace and you can’t earn it
Don’t think that you’re not worth it
Because you are
He gave you His love and He’s not leaving
Gave you His Son so you’d believe it
You’re lovely even with your scars
Don’t try so hardDo you remember how the summers felt when we were kids?
Ah, we didn’t think much about it, we just lived
Taking our time
Beautiful leisure
When did we start
Trying to measure up
When all this time
Love has been trying to tell usDon’t try so hard
God gives you grace and you can’t earn it
Don’t think that you’re not worth it
Because you are
He gave you His love and He’s not leaving
Gave you His Son so you’d believe it
You’re lovely even with your scars
Don’t try so hardDon’t try so hardDon’t try so hard
God gives you grace
You can’t earn it
Stop thinking you’re not worth it
Because you are
He gave you His love and He’s not leaving
Gave you His Son so you’d believe it
You’re lovely even with your scars
Don’t try so hard

The Gift

My mother Helen and I with my son Aaron
Christmas 1977
Well, it happened;  I wasn’t sure when the tears would come, but sure as it’s the Christmas season that feeling of happy sadness touched my heart. I blame it on James Taylor singing this song. (Sappy. Cheesy. But true.)
Out running errands, turning left into the rainless sunshine cracking through the clouds, there were the familiar lines in a familiar voice, reminding me of long ago.  My heart cracked a little, too.  How my mother loved to sing. Any time, anywhere.
Although my mother’s been gone over 30 years I can vividly remember her joining in on a Johnny Mathis tune, her throaty alto sounding the bass line.  She loved the soulful singers of the day–Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughan and especially Harry Belafonte. (Oh, the Banana Boat Song.  ‘Day-O!’)
My mother’s appreciation of music and song rubbed off on all five us kids (my family and friends will tell you I’ll pretty much burst into song at the drop of a hat.) My brother, sister and I were all in glee club before it was cool, and my mom came to all of our concerts.
Although financially we couldn’t even afford a record player, we did have a radio. One. And it was on most of the time.
Because my mother was determined to expose us to ‘good music’ she made it a point to take us to free concerts in the Southern California area where I grew up.  Each year one of the outdoor malls had special Christmas concerts with full choir and orchestra.  I think this is where I first heard Handel’s “Messiah.”
Of course the Christmas music my mother enjoyed was sung by Andy Williams and Nat King Cole, Dean Martin and others.  As a teenager she heard me rave about James Taylor but what would she think if she heard him singing some of those traditional Christmas tunes today?
(Yes, he has a recording of that song, too.)
I think she’d be overjoyed–which makes me smile (and sometimes cry).
I think she’d also enjoy Josh Groban and Andrea Boccelli.  Probably Michael Buble (ah, sappy again.)
I miss my mother very much, especially at Christmas, but I’m grateful for the gift of music and song she gave me so very long ago.
And I’m grateful to my Saviour that I now know the One I was singing about all those years ago.
“Thanks be to God for his unspeakable gift.” 
II Corinthians 9:15

Voice Messages

St. John’s College, SF, NM, Aug. 2018 jlc

“Deep calls to deep in the roar of your waterfalls;

all your waves and breakers have swept over me.

By day the LORD directs His love,

at night his song is with me–

a prayer to the God of my life.”  Psalm 42:7&8, NIV

Before my husband and I got our new smartphones (which alas, have not made us any smarter) I had several voice messages saved on my OLD cel phone.

Our precious married girl, “Hey mom, this is your daughter…”

My married, father-of-5, living-far-away son, “Hey, mom…”

And his delightful children, “Hi Nana…”

My sisters in California, my closest friend in New Orleans, my bosom friend in Florida.

Recorded treasures of the voices I LOVE.

“Why don’t you just erase them?” my husband asked.

Erase them? Extinguish the lilt of their one-of-a-kind phrases? Send the sound of their “I love you’s” into who-knows-where? I think not.

I long to hear them in person, but that’s improbable most days as these people I love are out of town or out of state. However, if I have a recording, although it’s been days, weeks or months, with a couple of gentle taps on my phone I can hear the sound of their voice and they’re right there in the room.

Without the visual presence of a person the sound of someone’s voice is the richest proof of who they are. The tone and inflection, accent, choice of words, phrasing. All of it adds up to frame the familiar for us.

I remember when my mother was dying of cancer almost 25 years ago.  I lived 500 miles away in a Central California town while she spent her last days with my sister in Southern California.

Her chemo treatments were nearly finished and my 55-year-old mother was in a significant amount of pain.  Although I’d spoken to her on my birthday a month before, I knew it wouldn’t be long before she’d be passing away.  I urged my sister to let me know when it was getting close to the end so I’d have the 4 1/2 hours I needed to be there in time.

Six weeks later the phone call came.  I loaded up myself and my things and sped down the I-5 freeway, careless whether I broke any laws–I just needed to see my mother.  I was oddly thankful for the miles between us; it gave me all the time I needed to process what it would be like to finally see her. I had no idea what to expect, but I knew she’d be changed. How much? I wondered.

I recalled my sister’s comments in our phone conversation. She reported that Mom had lost a significant amount of weight (she was thin to begin with). Then there was the loss of all her hair, her brunette waves, gone. Would I be ready to take that all in, visually?

I arrived at my sister’s home in record time and held my breath as I knocked on the door.

I was shocked at what I saw when the door opened. Who was this gaunt, old woman with a turban on her head? Where was my mother?

Then she said my name and welcomed me in. I nearly wept at the sound of her voice; there she was right in front of me.

I thought about this the other day reading the Gospel of John. Jesus tells his disciples that his sheep would hear and know his voice.

Without a doubt, when God says our name, it is a voice like no other. We know He is there even if we can’t see Him.  And God is always speaking to us, day and night, in our wondering, our worrying, and in our wandering. I want to remember to walk away from the noise, the rushing water, the other sounds and voices that sometimes drown Him out, and listen for His songs in the night.

I love the sound of His voice. How about you?