At the Pace of a Steady Walk
My message to the Bethel folk this morning was called Peepers and Other Spring Things. In the message I mentioned something I read in David Kline’s book; The Round of a Country Year. (David is an Amish farmer and writer from Holmes County, Ohio). He wrote this: “They say peepers will be frozen to silence three times before spring is here to stay.” It reminds me of something an elderly widow in Ohio, Dorothy Hall, taught me: “There will be three more snows after the Forsythia bloom.” (Sorry to those of you who may have heard me say this before).
These old farmer sayings tell me one thing clearly. Human beings long for the return of spring, the last snow, the opening of the redbuds, the sound of peepers on a spring night. We all have ways of counting the days until we can feel the therapy of sunshine on our necks.
Jerry Dennis, a keen observer of nature and skilled Michigan writer, once wrote this: “They say spring advances fifteen miles a day, about the pace of a steady walk.” I’ve read in other places that Spring “walks” north at about two miles an hour, which is a steady pace for guy my age in my physical condition..
I noticed some unusual traffic on my website this evening. A few years ago I wrote an article “Why Are Redbuds Purple?” People must do a Google search with the question; “Why are redbuds purple,” and the search engine drives them to my site. I can always tell where the Redbuds are opening by seeing where the traffic is coming from. From the Carolinas, Kentucky, Tennessee, even deep in southern Illinois, I have hits on my article, which quickened my heartbeat with anticipation. I think in our part of Michigan the Redbuds begin to open about a week or ten days before the Dogwoods blossom. And the Dogwoods always seem to open in mid-May, about the time of my father’s birthday.
What Will We Wish We Could Do Again?
Having spent over sixty years on this planet and having paid close attention to my soul during that time, this I know. We will look back on this time with a certain fondness if we and those we love survive it. If we are wise we will ask; What will we wish we could do again when we no longer can? This is a good question to ask your soul regularly during this time when we are forced to slow down and stay home.
Villages Along Route 60
In the Village of Concord, where the North Branch of the Kalamazoo River widens into a mill pond is a little BBQ joint. Hope and I drove there the other night to carry out some Brunswick Stew. Driving into the little village I felt a mild melancholy tug on my soul.
The first Sunday in March my Dad and Mom retired from pastoral ministry at 86 years of age. The next Friday we moved them to Kalamazoo. I didn’t really anticipate the sadness I would feel at the thought of it. For the last ten years they lived in the tidy parsonage on the grounds of the South Litchfield Baptist Church at the corner of Sterling and Hadley Road. Mom and Dad lived in the parsonage for ten years. They lived there in Hillsdale County for most of the last 25 years. Now I would never have a reason to take that trip again.
There were so many times that trip was good for my soul—so many times a return trip from the little parsonage was a personal revival. For most of the time they lived there we lived in the Detroit Downriver and the drive to my parents home would inevitably move me to tears at the simple open beauty of the countryside. All along the last 30 minutes of the trip were field and wood, streams and open sky, wildflowers and trees, birds and grazing cows, deer and turkey vultures. It was peaceful.
Once I drove away and had to pull the car over to the side of the road and weep… One night traveling through a dark betrayal I even believe I received special direction from God for what I was about to pass through.
That night I drove away from the little house at dusk. Wild turkeys crossed the road and I slowed to a respectful speed and had a strong sense of the voice of the Spirit in it. He knows my soul. Within a half hour I would receive a call and pull to the bottom of the ramp off I-94 at Race Road to take it. It would change my life in a dramatic way, which that night seemed nothing but bad, but within a year it would allow us to move into our home in the neighboring county about four quaint villages away from my parent’s home. It was a smiling providence I often imagined but I could never have arranged. But now I will never be able to make that drive again or visit that little parsonage and have my soul restored or be reminded of the things these precious people labored so hard to form in me.
An Unexpected Visitor
Saturday afternoon I was enjoying the luxury of an hour or two reading a thick volume on the life and work of C. S. Lewis. Hope was on the couch next to my chair curled up with her Kindle, Hazzard was sleeping on the rug at my feet, when there came a sharp knock at the door. Dad was there. I didn’t expect him. He wanted to give me his tools. He would not need them anymore. Oddly we carried the tools I had seen him use for years into our Carriage House and leave them. A lump formed in my throat.
I coaxed him into the house and we fell into easy conversation. Lois arrived home and they warmly greeted each other. She sat with us and Dad began to tell us stories of his childhood and the hardships of the Great Depression and World War II. We sat in silence and listened. He told of his family and how they had all come to Christ and how empty things had been before. He spoke of how Christ had so changed his family. We all wept and and prayed. I walked him to his car and stood waving until it disappeared over the hill to the west. I knew then that when this hardship passes and visits are possible, though I cannot sit with them in the old parsonage again, I will set aside other things and savor long conversation in their little apartment in Kalamazoo.
My grandmother Shipley would sometimes sweetly remind us when we were young and didn’t really understand, “Grandpa and I won’t be here forever you know.” And she was right.
As one who loves God, I am of the conviction that when God allows something bad to happen to you He is doing something good. When he calls you to endure something bitter there will be a sweetness in it. And in this great hardship that has forced a busy almost frantic culture to slow down and go home and stay home for a while, maybe that is the good thing, that is the sweetness we will wish for when it is not longer possible. The goodness of time with those we love. The sweetness of unhurried conversation. The deep thanksgiving at the awareness of how Christ can come in and transform a great sadness to joy and a great evil to good and even a killing world-wide plague to life eternal.
March 29, 2020
PS; Here are a couple paragraphs from Jerry Dennis to hook you on reading his stuff:
“One morning I stepped from my friend’s cabin on Lake Superior and was met by the first warm wind of the season. A familiar call sounded high overhead and I looked up to see a loon hurtling past, bound for Canada. Then came another, and another, each trailing its ululating warble.
It was the clarion announcement, the emblem of the wild north, a song that stirs primordial urges in many of us who cherish unspoiled places. It’s the music of mist-shrouded lakes deep in the spruce forest, a boreal timelessness that is perhaps best heard from a canoe. Coming from the sky above Superior it was this and more: the sound of wildness in transit, winging north with the lengthening days of this season of hope.” –Jerry Bridges from The North Shore.