It’s quiet on the deck this morning. Water gurgles as it falls into the ponds. Birds sing to awaken the morning. I can’t hear it, but we know that “the whole creation has been groaning. . .” That’s what Apostle Paul said in his letter to the Roman Believers. And from my iPad Bradley Walker sings, “Sing me to Heaven. When it comes my time to go, gather around me friends and sing me home. Don’t need sad faces just all my favorite songs. Sing me to Heaven when I’m gone.”
My heart is steadfast, O God! I will sing and make melody with all my being! Awake, O harp and lyre! I will awake the dawn! I will give thanks to you, O LORD, among the peoples; I will sing praises to you among the nations. For your steadfast love is great above the heavens; your faithfulness reaches to the clouds. Be exalted, O God, above the heavens! Let your glory be over all the earth!
To the east the sun is trying to pop up from the other side of the horizon, but something’s got a hold on it; perhaps it’s struggling to awaken. Above me, just barely visible through the remaining leaves on a tree, there’s a week-old full moon hanging around, not wanting to let go of its place as the light of the night. It’s still dark in the woods beyond the boundaries of our garden-gone-wild. The fragrance of a cigar’s smoke floats gently off into the darkness. And my cup of coffee is warm, nice.
Lately I’ve been thinking again about place. Initially, I’d thought I was searching for a new place for myself. Not really as place to stay, but a place in which I fit in the scheme of things. Until a few years ago, it wasn’t hard to determine: I worked. I raised some kids. I wrote some. I don’t work for money any more. Kids are grown and at least think they’re on their own.
A fish just grabbed an insect from the surface of the pond, then dove below. Like animals and plants, they know their place in the world. It is preassigned, so to speak. People are different. We determine, to a large extent, our place. We are encouraged to do that. Growing up in America, I was not much different than other children. Adults seemed to always ask the same question.
“What do you want to be when you grow up?” they’d say.
“I want to get a degree in English,” I told my Dad after graduating from high school.
“That and a dime,” he’d said, “will get you a cup of coffee.”
It wasn’t too encouraging, I didn’t think. As I look back on it, he didn’t say there was anything wrong with an English degree, he was prompting me to think ahead to what I would do with it. I was eighteen. I couldn’t think past the day, let alone four years ahead. I didn’t know what the possibilities were for me. I didn’t know what I could do.
My Dad sold the ranch when he went with the 40th Infantry Division to fight in the Korean Conflict. It would have been easier, perhaps, to know that my place would be on the ranch, continue on with it. In some ways I envied others who would take over their father’s business. Their place was somewhat determined already. Of course, not everyone wants to take on his father’s work. But when you don’t know what direction in which to go, it’s a good starting point. Me, I was pretty aimless. Lacking a vision for what I could do with a degree in English, I worked for a while and found a love for driving truck. But where does that lead? seemed always to be an unspoken question by my Dad, and by me, too. I found a place serving with the Army National Guard, full time for a lot of years. It wasn’t satisfying. It wasn’t really my place in the world.
Thinking about all this over the last few months now, I think I’ve always searched for direction. I did one thing after another. Worked here and there. Travelled here and there. Lived here and there. Forty-five years of meandering in the world, never really settled. There was a yearning for something more—always something more. I knew Jesus. Yes. The Spirit of G-D was upon me from childhood, but being a true Gentleman, never imposed Himself upon me, though always watched over me. I know this now. And perhaps there were some “good” things I did along the way. Perhaps. Yet despite hearing over and over how we are saved by the Grace of G-d, that we don’t have to earn salvation, I still didn’t even really know my true place with Him. I seemed to be trying to earn that right to be a Child of G-D.
Have you heard songs about our “home in Heaven” and wanting to go home? I have. And know what I thought? I’ve never been to Heaven, so how can I think as Heaven as my true home? I knew I’d go to Heaven eventually. But what place did I have their? What had I ever done to deserve that honor?
In the distance, someone parked their car and somehow triggered the alarm, and the car’s horn is honking. It breaks my concentration. It interferes with my thinking, my pondering, my telling my story here. It stops and the sounds of the water falling into the pond return. A lot of fish are coming to the surface, grabbing at the bugs that are coming out as the sun finally begins to shine. Daytime arrives. A new light filters through the trees to illuminate the woods beyond. The aroma of the cigar is gone, the smoke no longer drifting upward. Left unattended, it’s gone out. It will need to be relighted. Sina, a German Shepherd Husky mix, whines to get out of the house. She wants to run down to the creek to see if there are any deer she can bark at. I take this as an opportunity to get another cup of coffee and a half of a left-over bagel. It is getting lighter outside. I can see clearly into the woods now.
A memory comes to mind. A dear friend once told me of her grandfather’s heart attack. He was in the hospital. Dying. A Roman Catholic priest had come to his room, giving him the Last Rites. Then her pastor came.
“Joe, do you know where you are going?” he asked.
“No,” her grandfather answered. And the pastor shared the Bible’s assurance of salvation through belief in Jesus. It’s not about us. It’s about Him. He paid for all our mistakes, our misdirections. Yes, our sins. Joe found this assurance, and assurance the Catholic Church hid from him all his life. Joe didn’t die then. But he knew then his home, his place, was in Heaven, and awaited him.
As I’ve looked at my place, my place in this physical world in which we live and work and ultimately leave, my searching and seeking seems so very trivial.
The fragrance of the rekindled cigar returns. Its smoke drifts toward the trees. Life on Earth is like the smoke of that cigar; it is here, now, and gone. Part of a song comes to mind. “Turn your eyes upon Jesus, Look full in His wonderful face, And the things of earth will grow strangely dim, In the light of His glory and grace.” All that I’ve done, all that I’ve left undone, will one day mean little compared to the glory experienced in Heaven. For what did I seek all those years? Really! What was it all about? Money? Fame? Excitement? Or was it security. Did having a better job really mean trying to find security in the world?
Yesterday was Columbus Day. On the news groups of Italian-Americans boycotted a Columbus Day parade in protest over the possibility that a statue of Columbus will be determined offensive, and torn down.
The Peace Corps doctor and his wife visited me while I was a Peace Corps Volunteer in Nigeria. He told me he wasn’t a very good doctor. His wife quickly clarified things.
“He didn’t attain great statue and wealth,” she said. “We lived in a small town, and he devoted himself to his family and his community.”
In the end, does it really matter what we’ve done, how much we’ve earned? Ultimately my place is with Y’shuaJesus in Heaven. With this knowledge filling my heart sixty years ago, what a difference it might have made? Things of Earth grow dim in my old age. I didn’t save money for retirement. I didn’t get a gold watch and a plaque to commemorate a career. And I’ve come to terms with that. It doesn’t matter. Nothing matters. Everything matters. Things of Earth matter not. Things of Heaven matter. Eternity is a long, long, long time. Our mortal lives on Earth are so very short. Like the smoke from that cigar, wafting off toward the trees then gone.
How then should we live our lives? A wonderful friend puts it this way:
“Do the next good thing!” she says often.
And once I am gone from Earth?
“Sing Me To Heaven,” Bradley Walker sings. Sing me to Heaven where I shall feast with Y’shuaJesus at His table along with kings and paupers, rich and poor, who all, while one Earth, set the G-d of Israel before them as the direction of their lives, their security, their hope.
“Sing me to Heaven!”