A letter from my grandfather. The thin sheets have survived six moves in eight years. When I lived in Southeast Asia, he sent them to me, along with a recipe for homemade bread.
I remember squinting at his scratchy cursive. It took a long time to understand.
I served Grandpa’s bread on a floor mat, to some neighbors who had come over to celebrate Thanksgiving with me, that first year overseas. The smell transported me from that island in Asia to a hilltop in Maine. For years as I was growing up, on visits to Grandpa’s, the sweet, warm aroma of bread had greeted my family before he did.
We would stretch our legs after the two-hour drive up north, then enter through the side door of his farmhouse. Grandpa didn’t always hear us coming in– especially later in his life– but the smell said we were welcome, he had prepared something. We were loved.
Last week, the teenagers from the Young Leaders’ program didn’t hear me come in. They were occupied taping photos of the pilot onto black and white balloons, preparing dozens of tiny candles for a vigil, and wrapping words around their grief until it spun into poetry. They did not know his name while he was alive.
But the shocking news of his death had made him an international headline, and even after media moved on, it made them feel like they lost a brother. So they searched for ways to express their loss, their loyalty, and their love.
Just days afterward, we heard of 21 more killed. Words seem cracked and dry.
I don’t know where things will go. In the next five months, over half of my coworkers will move. I will begin directing the Young Leaders program in the spring, right when fresh faces are arriving. The steady rhythm I just learned will give way to a different song. New colleagues will join at the community center.
The relative stability of our region in the days ahead…the relational dynamics in our shifting team… the reality of how much (or little) Arabic I understand will understand in a given conversation…
All of these are unknown. And all of these will change.
Recently someone suggested picturing faithfulness as a kind of water. For someone who enjoys metaphors, strange as they may sound, I didn’t get this at first. But then, I pictured:
A barren rock face. There’s a small pool of liquid in the middle, but no sign of beauty, none of strength. Below the surface, unseen, water seeps deeply into the ground. There it meets just the right combination of empty spaces, pressure, and intense heat. Sometimes at predictable intervals, other times unexpectedly, the water bursts forward. A geyser.
It’s not a bubbly, flowing stream, how I used to see faithfulness. It is mostly quiet and hidden from sight, under an unyielding surface. It is fiery. The pressure and empty space work together for something positive. At just the right moment, grace and power erupt.
And the transformation from hard ground to geyser only takes place along the earth’s faults. In broken places.
My understanding has often proven too limited to trust, my attempts to predict the future usually result in frustration… But if I still my soul I hear this reminder: I’ve made a way for you here. I’ve prepared something– just wait.
I love you.
The letter closed with the verses that, in his words, “had that meant so much to your grandmother and I.”
My grandpa passed away two years ago, but over the past two days I have heard his voice in my memory, just like I heard it when I first read that letter. He is reciting these words: Trust in the Lord with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct thy paths. (Proverbs 3:5-6)