Your Hands

You hands–warm, strong, and steady–have held me together these years.

You knitted me in my mother’s womb–every sinew, nerve, and bone. Down to the most intricate detail your hands made me perfect.

You held me up as I learned to walk and and rejoiced over me with song as I grew and ran with arms spread open to the sun and wind. Yes, you were there long before I even began to have a notion of who you were. From you I learned the true meaning of joy. From your hands I have received only good things.

You lifted me, when I was drowning and dark waves of terror overwhelmed me. You held me back all those years ago when an encounter with a speeding car would have surely ended my life. You hands saved me from myself and from the enemy.

Life went on, and as it surely does sunshine sometimes gave way to shadows. But in your infinite power You saved me from homelessness. You never ever failed to provide shelter and food. How wonderful you are! Yes, your hands always provide.

From you I have received and received and received. Yes, your hands are the source of all that is good in my life.

I am filled with wonder at how the hands that created this world, direct the flowing rhythm of nature, and hung the stars in space are the same hands that my sin marred for all eternity. How is it that your nail-pierced hands still beckon to me? How is it that they draw me closer and closer to you?

I can never hope to match your gifts. But I can learn from you and follow your example.

Let my hands be an extension of your own hands. May whatever they create or do be excellent and give glory to you. May my hands have the strength to lift others up when they fall. May they give more than receive, and may they be open to others just as your hands are ever open to me.

Advertisements
church. photo by Floyd B. Bariscale

Return to Hilltop Church

I remembered Mara’s Hilltop church in all its faded glory.

The imposing gray Romanesque façade rising above the busy, dirty street—the broad, shallow steps leading up to the impressive portico and a trio of wooden doors —the pigeons flying out of the unused bell tower—the terraced grounds bordered on all sides by wrought-iron fencing—it was familiar and alien to me at the same time. I wondered at Mara—would she not have liked to attend a smaller church—maybe like Zuri’s? I could not account for why she chose to drive all the way to the inner city to Hilltop church full of people and a sea of faces, when there were smaller churches—of her denomination too—much closer to home. But I figured Mara’s subconscious thing for cathedral-like places of worship was a remnant of her shameful Catholic past.

It was raining and crowded in the portico, so I could not wait for Tony outside, and as Mara and I shared an umbrella, I had no choice but to follow her up the steps and into the church.

There were greeters at the door and at the lobby. They were the deaconesses. They wore name badges on their sober navy-blue suit ensemble. All of them wore flat shoes, flesh-toned nylons, and the hem of their pencil skirts fell below the knee. They greeted me warmly and handed me a church bulletin.

I’d not been shot down—yet.

Despite myself, I glanced around me curiously, stealing glances at people’s faces seeking out any familiar features while I waited around for Mara to finish speaking with this or that church sister. Once she was done, she looked at me, and I could see she was surprised that I was still sticking around, “Where is your friend?”

I had not seen him, “I don’t know. Maybe he is running late.”

“Sabbath school is about to start.”

“Can I wait for him here? I’ll join you once he gets here.”

“Don’t you want to go with the young people?”

I bristled at the thought, “Do I have to?”

“No. But there’s only older people where I’m at.”

“I don’t mind,” I shrugged, thinking back to the Monday night study group—they were all old.

“As you wish, then. Fifth pew from the front, left side.” Mara said, as if I could forget the spot we’d sat at for years. There we’d sat when, decked in our best, we had first come to this church–back then father had been holding my hand as well as Mara’s. There we endured the pity and inquisitiveness of our brethren some years later when Mara and I came in by ourselves with scandal trailing behind us. There I’d writhed and suffered agonies pretending that life was OK and growing increasingly angry at seeing Mara’s enormous efforts to keep up the act. All this, and Mara still wanted to know why I had left the church? I shook my head, and tried to clear my mind of things from the past. I was trying to give myself a second chance. I had to let things go…right?

So we parted; Mara went in through the doors to the sanctuary and I went to the far left, to a little hidden bench next to a fake palm tree where I could see the people who stepped in through the main door. I sat and I waited and waited for Tony to arrive.

But he didn’t come.

 

Part 20 – If You Only Knew

If My People

When we finally went in to church, I took my usual seat in the back, and Zuri went on and took her seat at one of the front pews. A person sitting some eight pews in front of me turned and looked back. It was Tony. He looked strange—was he growing a beard? He looked much older. He smiled through the gloom of the church, and motioned me to join him there.

I waved back and smiled. And while a great part of me wanted to desperately cast away the melancholia induced by solemn talk I’d had in the car with Zuri, I shook my head and stayed where I was.

Zuri had told me to ask God what my purpose in life was.

But how to ask?

And how to know what his will was?

First of all, how could I dare? How could I draw to the altar and bend my knees in prayer, and ask God to guide me with the full knowledge that just today I’d hidden a stash of benzos I’d bought with money I’d stolen from Mara?

I contemplated my life, such as it was. It was distasteful. There was nothing to be proud of. Not even my GPA. The past I hated, and the future I dreaded.

The worship leaders got up on stage and began singing their simple songs.

I’d always listened, with detachment born out of scorn for the simple music. But for the first time I saw and heard it for the heartfelt music that it really was.

I closed my eyes, and bowed my head, hearing intently every single word of the song the others were singing. I’d heard this song before… or, rather, the words of the song. It was from the Bible… we’d read it in the study group—How did it go?

If my people, which are called by my name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land.

I shivered, and hugged myself.

Not again…I thought, believing I’d feel sick as I had the last time I’d prayed with Tony. But it was different. Something like hope replaced the inner desolate void that had existed before when just the thought of prayer alone had made me feel nauseous and sick with grief. And instead of feeling cold I began to feel almost warm.

I don’t know how it happened, but I dropped to my knees. Hot tears streamed down my face, and I began sobbing. Softly at first, and then I had much ado to hold myself together and not draw attention. But it was ineffective. Dimly I felt someone come to my side. Zuri was rocking me in her arms. Soothing me, and praying for me.

Oh, God.

I’ve tried so many times . . . you know I have.

But I can’t draw close to you because I’m a thief, a liar, a drug addict, I question my sexual orientation, I drink, and I watch porn in my computer.

I’m really sick.

Detestable.

A monster.

A blemish in creation, and nothing short of death can put an end to the mess that I am. I wanna die and be lost in oblivion. And yet, I’m begging you. Don’t turn me away. Please don’t give up on me just yet. You listened once to me—twice, with the Terry thing—Can you do it again? Please?

If I’m going to die, then I don’t want to be afraid. I don’t want to be afraid of you, or of life, or of death. I want to make things right, and be right with you. So please save me . . .

Help me . . .

 

Part 18 of If You Only Knew

Quote

Baggage

If you don’t let go of your baggage, eventually your passions turn into poison

My passion is to reach people. Be it through art, through writing, music, or even doing an act of kindness. Lately, though, I’ve been harboring feelings of frustration, I’ve been suffering from a lack of drive and real joy. . . . It’s been awful. It took someone else to point out that there is even anger involved–a backlash from being hurt in the past. I didn’t recognize it, and I’m still not sure just how far back into the past by baggage goes.

But I think it’s time to lose it.

Because if my passions are turning into poison, that would be a very dire thing for me. I wouldn’t have a reason to live. It would be like dying.

I need prayers.

Negotiating a Miracle

I began to contemplate having a relationship with God for entirely selfish purposes. But what does it matter to Him why you come, as long as you come to him?

Wretched and feeling incredibly lonely, I was sobbing in the restroom after having been sick. I looked at my face in the mirror.

Oh, man…

I’d only lasted two weeks.

“How pathetic,” I said to the bloated face that stared back at me, “if things are like this, who would ever come to love you?” I splashed my face with cold water, and dried it with a towel. Then I trudged on to bed.

“Who would ever love you?” You say? Idiot. Terry said he liked you.

Yeah, but Terry—come on! Terry?

I thought about my good friend of almost two years; saw his crooked smile, and the awkward gait of a guy who is still trying to get used to a considerable growth spurt. Gone was the pudgy boy of my childhood, and in its stead was a guy who was not at all bad-looking. I remembered the long afternoons at the library as we processed books and chatted about life. He’d never judged or said an unkind word about me or about anybody—but then I’d never really told him everything.

My face crumbled, “Oh, Terry. If you only knew…”

It wasn’t that I liked him and I regretted turning him down. Romance was unthinkable. I was more upset about the things I’d said, and the friendship I’d lost. How great it would be to have an undo button in life. That’s not possible, or won’t be until some genius invents a time machine. To end it all is also impossible, as I said before.

Then, is it possible to wipe everything clean and start over?

I thought about it. Once in my life I’d been granted that wish. Can a miracle be repeated more than once in a person’s life? Could I somehow negotiate a miracle, the way I negotiated…other things?

It was then that I prayed for the first time in years.

And I think I was still under the influence.

 

part 5 of If You Only Knew

– – –

If You Only Knew – Part 5
Wednesday Word Count: 354

Beside the Master

When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, ‘Simon son of John, do you love me more than these? (John 21:15)

I can feel it. There are words that cannot be said, but it is in everyone’s minds as we sit here by the lake with our Master.

Outwardly everything looks the same. Last time we even went fishing together. And now that the Lord has appeared to us we are sitting here like before. We eat and hold on to his every word as he speaks to us words of comfort and wisdom—words from God’s own mouth.

But it’s no use. Something has changed, at least with respect to me. For days past I’ve noticed the unexpressed thought that they all have. The doubt. The distance.

There he goes again. I’ve just caught James looking at me. He looks away whenever I catch him, but eventually he glances at me, looks me over, and then looks at the Master by whose side I sit. I know what he is thinking—I am unworthy to be counted among them. I’ve forfeited my right to sit by the Master’s side and break bread together like before. I’ve cut myself off from the intimate fellowship I was once part of.

You see, I denied the Master. I who said I would die for him and with him if necessary invoked curses and oaths a few hours later and denied my beloved Master. Praise God He is alive . . . but things aren’t the same. Nothing can ever be the same. The other ten distrust me. I am no better than Judas who betrayed him.

And then the Master suddenly changes the direction of the conversation. Right in front of them he turns to me and asks.

Do you love me—more than these?

The others sit still. When was the last time I flushed with embarrassment? When was the last time I was at a loss for words? I’ve never experienced this before. I dare no longer express so violent and boastful an affection.

He asks me this three times. At last, my heart shatters when I see the significance of the number—for the number of times I denied him. Can it be too late? Too late to make my Master and my Lord believe that I love him?

And yet . . . I have nothing to offer but the humble love of one who no longer dares to boast and strut around in self assurance. I have nothing to make him believe the depth of my affection, my gratitude, and unshaken belief that he is, indeed, the son of God.

That old bloke is gone, my Lord, and in its stead is just me, Simon whom you called Peter, looking beyond myself to become the man you wanted me to become. And I’m so desperately hoping you will believe me. You know everything.

And that is enough. You take me back, and by your grace I am restored into close communion with you and my fellow brothers, my new family. Yes, I failed. Not once, but many times. But you, oh Lord, make all things new.

Restored to you, called once more to your service, and entrusted with a mission.

Yes, Lord. I will follow you. Use me to feed your lambs and tend to your sheep.