Thursday, September 11, 2008

Ten thousand places

The family heads south tomorrow.  And west and north, depending on the starting point.  Converging for another family wedding.  My nephew's.  And all my parents' children, all their grandchildren will be in attendence.  That's quite a feat in this busy world.  When I found out the location of the nuptials, I called an old friend to ask if we could crash at their house.  I wrote about that phone call--the one where I ended up talking to a different old friend unexpectedly.  Anyway, Mandy and Scott have been our friends since E and their daughter were infants--three weeks and three months old, respectively.  We learned the ropes of parenting together, pulled our hair out when our babies wouldn't sleep through the night, when they were teething, talking, potty-training, and teening.  Yep, we've about done it all with them, even though, for most of our friendship we haven't lived in the same state.

But we're the kind of friends who can call up and say we're passing through and five minutes later, there'll be be beds ready for us. And they know we'll pull out a bunk for them any time as well.  We've taken advantage of this in the best possible way over the years. I'm deeply thankful for that.  Though I really love them, these friends of ours are as different from us as lemon is from chocolate (my favorite flavor and the Beve's--just in case you were wondering).  Our friendship was born in a common experience twenty-four years ago, forged in education and living, but not common faith.  To give them as much credit as I can, I would call Mandy an agnostic--maybe.  Scott is the disenchanted son of lifelong African missionaries who was sent away to boarding school at 5, suffering from homesickness then the greater loss of his mother in his teens. There's pain associated with faith for him.  For all this, they are good people who love each other, their children and the world.  They really do love the inhabitants of the earth, and the earth itself.  Sometimes I've wondered what motivates such great passion in them, in others like them.  Don't you ever wonder how people behave ethically, respond in justice, live with eternal values when eternity isn't in their eyes?

A couple of days ago, Mandy called me up to settle when we were coming tomorrow, then said, "We have plenty of beds, you know.  Your whole family can stay here." 
I was shocked into silence for a moment.  "Seriously?" I finally asked. "That could be up to 14 people."
"That's fine," she answered.  "Our kids are all gone for the week.  We'll change all the beds, and make breakfast for you, then Scott and I will get out of your hair."
"Are you sure?  It would be really fun for us, but it's a lot.  Other people's families can be pretty wierd."
"I like wierd," she said.  "I mean it."
"Okay," I told her. 
Then she called back three times to tell me they have pillows, pads, not to forget our swimming suits for their hot tub. 

My sisters were overwhelmed with the kindness of it.  I told them that this is who they are.  They practice hospitality, and love a party. Mandy is honest to a fault and wouldn't ask if she didn't mean it, and will lavish us with grace. 

I've known others like her, others who don't know Chirist but whom Christ works through.  Have you met them?  Or do you think Him so small that He only works through those who call Him Lord?  Not me.  I have sat down in too many places with too many people who have extended grace to me and others.  That grace cannot be extended, that love cannot be shown where He is not.  I know Who Love is.  Even though I can imagine how much more lavish that hospitality might be if she/ they did know Christ themselves, doesn't diminish that He lives and breathes and moves in their unknowing service.

One of my favorite poems speaks of this. It's by Gerard Manley Hopkins:
'As kingfishers catchfire, dragonflies draw flame;
As tumbled over rim in roundy wells
Stones ring; like each tucked string tells, each hung bell's
Bow swung finds tongue to fling out broad its name;
Each mortal thing does one thing and the same:
Deals out that which being indoors each one dwells:
Selves--goes itself;  myself it speaks and spells,
Crying What I do is me: for that I came.

I say more: the just man justices;
Keeps grace: that keeps all his goings graces;
Acts in God's eyes what in God's eye he is--
Christ--for Christ plays in ten thousand places,
Lovely in limbs, and lovely in eyes not his
To the Father through the features of men's faces.

Read that second stanza again--and again and again.  And look around and tell me, don't you see Him everywhere you look? Lovely in limbs and lovely in eyes not His...the lovely limbs of the friends who helped paint our house this afternoon.  The lovely voice of my excited daughter on the other end of the phone.  The lovely eyes of my Beve, tired at the end of the day.  And our friends offering hospitality to a family not their own-- To the Father through the features of these very human faces.

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