Some years ago, I had an opportunity to attend a friend’s ordination service in a small Wisconsin church. The sanctuary quickly filled with friends, relatives and seminary classmates, along with those who would be participating in the service itself. It was a “high day” in the church. A day of putting in your best efforts. And, yes, given the nature of things, a day to impress all who came. I noticed a boy about seven years old sitting at a piano in the chancel area. I assumed he was helping one of the adults nearby or had been told to stay there while a parent was out doing the important work.
But, Chris was not there to help. He began to play a piano prelude. His skills were average seven year old, basic piano. Sometimes he stumbled over the keys. There were sour notes. At other times his pieces came off like a polished professional. There were pauses when Chris looked through his book for another piece he knew how to play. Once, during his twenty minutes of playing, Chris’s brother was sent to him with a message to start over at the front of his book (where Chris was a little more skilled).
Eventually, the choir came in and the organist was able to take her place at the organ. Chris had started towards his pew when someone at the back of the church began to clap. Soon sounds of applause filled the sanctuary and an enormous smile filled Chris’s face. We are people of many different experiences. Our maturity and faith level vary. Some of us stumble in life in areas other are proficient. At times we get confused and need to go searching for direction. We attempt a project only to see if fail miserably. We become discouraged, afraid and unwilling to try again. We may find ourselves being sent back to the beginning. There are even moments when we have to admit to ourselves, that the notes we are striking come out sounding just a bit sour to our own ears.
As I thought about Chris, it seemed to me that this small incident reflects the family of faith at its best . . . people applauding and encouraging the best efforts of others . . . Recognizing that all of us will stumble along the way. There will be sour notes and lost places. In our support and encouragement of one another, we become Christ to a world that needs a reason to smile. Who in your life needs some applause?
My sons were seven, six and four the summer they decided to poison their two year old sister. The two neighbor boys, who were generally down on girls and helped with the plan, were six and seven. I was never certain just what possessed my sons to do this. Their sister liked to tag along after them. But that could never justify in my mind, how they decided to put together a concoction of shaving cream, toothpaste and what they assumed to be poison mushrooms. Mostly, I remember my despair when the neighbor mom called and told me the plan my boys and hers had cooked up. Even now, I’m appalled when I think about it. I will tell you that I was not a calm mom at that point. I couldn’t wrap my head around what they wanted to do. There was never any real danger that my daughter would have tasted the mixture. Still it was a painful moment of recognizing that my perfect children were as vulnerable to imperfection as any others.
I wonder how the patriarch Jacob felt when he learned the true story of his son Joseph’s disappearance and presumed death. Recorded in the Biblical book of Genesis (chapters 37 through 50) the story of Joseph has intrigued generations of readers. Joseph with his special coat was sent to check on his older brothers. His brothers resented him and what they perceived as special treatment. Eight of Joseph’s brothers decided to kill him and rid themselves of the troublesome sibling. One, hoping to teach the boy a lesson and bring him home safe, convinced the others to put him in a pit. Unfortunately, he wasn’t around when traders arrived and the others decided to sell their brother into slavery. Soaking Joseph’s coat in the blood on an animal, they let their father assume a wild animal must have killed his beloved son.
What they didn’t realize, in all of their scheming, was the devastating effect that losing Joseph would have on their father. The light just slipped out of his life. He was no longer the father they knew, but a broken man grieving for a lost child. Years would pass with Joseph’s brothers carrying a load of guilt and shame. Eventually, starvation led them to Egypt and their lost brother. By then, Joseph had risen to a status almost as great as Pharaoh. His wisdom prevented mass starvation in Egypt. With the excess food that has been stored he can feed his brothers, saving them and their famlies from famine. Joseph could have treated his brothers with contempt. Instead, after revealing himself to them, he offers them forgiveness. It is not lost on the brothers that Joseph holds the power of life or death over them. To their surprise, Joseph tells them that what they intended for evil, God intended for good. The apostle Paul would say “We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to God’s purpose.” Romans 8:28
My son’s intent to poison their little sister has proven to be a handy reference point, when I hear one of the three adult sons complain about children who are behaving badly. It is a a quiet reminder of their childhood and what behaving badly really looks like.
Thursday morning’s news was filled with the tragic story of a young mom who slid into a retaining pond with five young children in the car. The story has grown worse over the last two days, as two of the children submerged in that icy water have died, one remains in very, very critical condition, while two are making signs of progress. I can only imagine the devastation this blended family is feeling. Hoping, waiting, praying for a child to recover from a critical illness changes the landscape of a heart. Grief over the loss of a child, rips the soul in two.
I used to drive past that retaining pond on a daily basis, and many times wondered why it was there. I often thought of the “what if’s” should a car slid into it on an icy morning or land there because of an accident. I had no idea it was so deep or so deadly. The highway department has good reasons and names it purpose as protecting our waters. But, one wonders if there couldn’t have been more protection to keep a car from going into the water.
I think of children submerged in icy waters, a young family trying hard to make life better for themselves. A new job that led a mom to drop her boyfriend off at work early in the morning, on the way to daycare, school and her new job. A family trying so hard in a society where the poor too often carry the weight of their poverty. All the while leading quietly heroic lives.