E-Letter 178

Posted by on Aug 15, 2014 in Devotions | 0 comments


Thirty-some years ago I stood in the blistering heat of a mechanic’s garage balancing an infant on one hip and keeping visual tabs on a curious three year old while listening to the young, grease-smeared auto expert deliver the “bad news” about my 1978 ice blue, un-airconditioned, jewel-in-the-night, four-door Chevy Caprice sedan that had accompanied our family on our exodus from the North. “Lady,” the young man said in a deep Southern drawl, “this car needs an ohl change.” I had no idea what an ohl was, nor what was involved in changing it. “An ohl change,” I said in a panicked voice, mentally calculating how much this complicated procedure was going to set us back financially. Bob and I had just moved to Georgia, and we did not have two nickels to rub together after spending a month’s salary to buy Pampers for an infant. “Is this something serious? Do I have to do it now?” I asked.  The young mechanic eyed me quizzically, which unnerved me, and in my most authoritative voice which I hoped contained an I’m-in-control tone I said, “I think I’ll just get a second opinion. You say my car needs an ohl change?” Not knowing how to respond, the young mechanic took his stained, sweaty, red bandana out of his back pocket, began wiping his hands, and then remarked, “You’re not from around here, are you?” THIS conversation I could handle! “No,” I said, “we just moved here from Michigan, and it’s all so overwhelming.” “Ahhhhh,” he said with some understanding, “and what do y’all miss most about Michigan?” His question caught me off-guard, and I thought for a moment.  “Lilacs,” I said as I rummaged in my purse for my wallet. “On the house,” he said, refusing payment, and I looked at him with a deep smile of gratitude that comes from a shared moment of reaching for  understanding.

I remembered this conversation as I leaned on the railing of the front porch of the new home of college friends who had just traded a lifetime in the Midwest for a fresh beginning in the South. Bob and I had spent the day helping them unpack boxes, move furniture, scrub cupboards and woodwork, and haul away trash, all the while enjoying the give and take of conversation shaped by years of familiarity, conversation that, to “someone not from around here” would have sounded like scat singing with its staccato of unfinished sentences, trailing suggestions, wordless gestures, and knowing nods. In the long silences between words, I reflected on the remarkable courage of our friends who had left behind a beautiful, memory-filled home with its photo-shoot, House Beautiful, perfectly manicured lawn, a wide circle of family and friends, a slew of volunteer involvements, and a vibrant community to begin a new phase of their lives in a new place.  “Did you bring anything from home?” I asked my friend as we surveyed her front yard. She pointed to a black plastic bucket propped in a mound of pine bark mulch. “Shoots from my lilac bush,” she said. Without thinking I sadly replied, “They won’t grow here. It’s too hot.”

Again and again in scripture Jesus invites his disciples to leave the comforts and securities of home. “Come away with me!” he says to his listeners as he forsakes the well-worn path up the mountain for a road less travelled. What do disciples do, Presbyterian author Anne Lamott wonders in her book, Bird by Bird, when, weary from hiking, they arrive at the new spot “where Jesus flang them?” Sleep? Make small talk? Venture off on exploratory forays? Forage for food? Plan an escape route? I can’t be sure, but what I imagine he’d say to a pair of wandering Midwesterners in search of a new beginning is, “Y’all come away with me and sit for a spell…right here, in these rocking chairs on y’all’s front porch. And don’t forget the sweet iced tea! You ARE in the South, afterall.  Sit here, in the shade, away from the blistering heat of an August sun and remember the smell of lilacs as y’all ponder my gift of newness!”