I know it sounds silly, but sometimes there’s love in the bread pudding. When I was in kindergarten and first grade I lived with my grandmother, Myrtle, my mother’s stepmother. She doted on this grandchild and there was nothing that exceeded her grasp when it came to demonstrating that love. At four years old I had my own bedroom with bed linens I’d chosen; shelves stacked with books and encyclopedia because she’d taught me to read at an early age. And a small television. In my room. Yes I thought I was all that. Not really. I’d known nothing else.
And her husband, my grandfather, my mother’s father was no slack in the love department either. I could see the love in his eyes when I was perched on his lap in the evenings when he dropped exhaustedly into his favorite chair after hoisting me into the air as soon as he cleared the doorpost.
Love in those deep blue eyes.
Love in those strong arms that propelled me from the floor.
Love in the way he spoke my name and responded to my yell of delight when I saw him.
Love in the television, in the books, in the privacy of my own little kingdom.
Love in the bed linens.
And love in the bread pudding. Two to three days a week when I bounded into the door from school, there was freshly baked, too-hot-to-eat, butter smothered bread pudding – no sauce, always a purist – just for me.
Prayer is the ongoing transaction between us and God, mediated or spurred on by the Holy Spirit, with Jesus at the right hand of the Father interceding on our behalf. The Holy Spirit is the cutter. He makes sure the ball gets into the basket. Jesus is our elder brother who puts his seal of approval on us.
Satisfaction should come from the richness of the relationship, the fact that we share time and interchange thought, the fact that I can bask in his presence and he can complete whatever work he desires in and through me. Or just maybe make me smile from deep down in my soul as he assures me I’m his daughter.
In prayer I acknowledge his grace of which I am a joyous recipient; celebrate his greatness, submit to his majesty, surrender my will, accept my call for the season or for the day. And there’s no perfect time of day except the time we spend together. And there’s no perfect length of time except that it should be difficult to turn my attention away. And there’s no perfect way to spend the time except whatever God ordains for those moments.
And we are right to be daunted by the whole process of prayer with its mystery and its majesty.
Experiments conducted years ago on the power of prayer reveal that even when doctors and patients were unaware that they were being prayed for, patients experienced more successful outcomes than those in the control group who were not being prayed for. Prayer accomplishes feats our minds can’t even imagine, can’t even fathom although we ask for them. People we pray for with the expectation that they live, die. People we pray for with submission to their transition, live.
In the midst of life’s contradictions, we continue to wonder why bad things happen to good people and vice versa. We continue to wonder why babies are born only to die soon after. So many of our questions go unanswered regardless of our prayer. We’re mere humans and God’s ways are not our ways. And often we attribute to God’s hand those things our own evil rebellion hath wrought through systems that perpetuate injustice and cruelty without measure.
I believe if we can think of prayer as relationship transaction rather than requests submitted, answers received, yes or no; if we can embrace that prayer begins with the Lord and pulls us in, then we can relax and let God do his own thing in his own way according to his own timeline.
On a hot summer night, when it was 90 degrees on Barclay Street in east Baltimore, we’d sometimes sit outside well into the morning. It was too hot to be inside. Especially on the upper floors of our three-story house. In fact all the neighbors sat outside on their porch front (no porches) metal chairs. They visited from house to house within their own blocks.
Sometimes Miss Nellie Logan would come up the street from her house to our house at 2303. She and my grandmother had been friends for more years than I could possibly know. They were girlfriends. I always giggled when I heard them say that. I thought girlfriends should at least be girls, not old ladies. But I never laughed out loud. And I never asked the question.
They were happy with their time together. They wouldn’t have as much when the weather got colder. They’d wave at Aunt Grace and Uncle Walter Maxfield across the street. And Les Andrews and his family in that corner house. They’d talk with Miss Mary Mitchell who lived next door. They’d speak to Joyce Richardson’s mother who always took at least one stroll down the block as the evening grew older. Joycie was my best friend. I didn’t know her mother’s first name. We didn’t know a lot of first names and we dared not ask.
Sometimes we’d run into the corner store that was actually next door to our house and get a cold treat – an ice cream sandwich, a soda or a candy bar. The owners of the store were Joe and Bella Zemlak. They’d been there my entire stay with their children Barry (Bernard), Marsha, the eldest and Margie, the baby. They were also members of the community. They watched after us. They made sure we were safe. They told our parents if we caused trouble. They took us home to our parents if we acted up in the store.
The family up the street that raised a bunch of foster children. The family on the other side of the street that had endless children and grandchildren – The Auggins family. I believe the matriarch was Miss Virginia. We played with her grandchildren – Gary and Patricia, Terry and her brother.
Everybody knew everybody.
We were beneficiaries of a team of folks who knew it was their duty to provide safety and security for all the children in the neighborhood. Not just theirs. All the children. Not every adult meant us well. But the ones who didn’t were few and far between. And those who were caught were stealthily dealt with by the men of the village. Soundly. Directly. With no room left for doubt.
It was in no means a perfect community. We were directed to be seen and not heard. That was a hard habit to break. We waited to speak when recognized, especially when adult conversations were going on. We certainly did without some things some times, but basics were pretty much always available.
There’s got to be a way for us to go forward, not back, to a time and space within which we learn to speak to each other; to know each other’s names. Where we look out for ourselves and for the families, especially the children who live in our vicinity. Where we share those things we need and those we have in excess. Where children can feel safe enough to refuse the attraction of gangs that offer unnecessary support. Where people can be community to each other, family to each other, without reservation. Surely we can!
Nobody talks about it anymore, but a focal point of the early African turned American church was the mourner’s bench. It was the center of activity back then because the best energy of worship was devoted to invoking the presence of God into the place, revoking any misguided invitation to the enemy and his imps from hell and exchanging the ownership of souls from the devil to their rightful Owner and Creator.
Down on the knees. It was the expected posture, if not lying prostrate on the face. It was the place from which warfare was waged, from which heaven was bombarded, from which redemption was claimed. On the knees. At the mourner’s bench.
In traditional churches, sinners waited for the Lord to save them. In holiness churches, the wait was never complete without the speaking of tongues. Mothers of the church, fathers in the word would gather and encircle the patients in the incubator, as they awaited the promised rebirth. They would speak in their own tongues to arouse the desire in the newbies. They would urge them on with cajoling, enticing them to repeat the name of Jesus… say it faster… until their recitation morphed into their own unique heavenly language to be used in personal conversation with the Lord.
It was expected that by a certain age, children would be saved. The “moaning” that went on was akin to the groaning emitted from a mother in labor with the expectation of new life. The kind of groaning described in Romans 8:22, characterizing the basic guttural unrest in the whole creation waiting for the manifestation of the children of God. The sound requires the use of abdominal muscles from the deepest part of the body.
And there’s no release or relief until the birth is accomplished.
One of the most fascinating events in the Bible is Peter walking on water. His zealous self could not be contained when he saw his fearless leader on the water, so he, without thinking, stepped out to meet him. And the traditional Christian read leads us to chastise him for looking down at his feet and thereby sinking.
Are you serious? The man walked on water.
“Created to Walk on Water” is a discussion to help all believers find their uniquely designed hind’s feet for high places and sea legs to walk as designed.
Even our missteps reinforce the muscle memory that eventually facilitates our water walking. It’s the difficulties coupled with the overcomes that propel us to our foreordained water lane that reminds us of our place in the kingdom and welcomes us home.
In my house, every meal was cooked from scratch. We had baked beans and tuna from cans. But beyond that fresh food was purchased each week from the market or from the truck that came into the block every Saturday bearing fresh vegetables, bright colorful fruit and often even the meat to season the greens…fresh pork shoulder. Ham. Ham hocks.
The “huckster” as his profession was called, always ended his spiel with…and corn fritters. I never knew what a corn fritter was. I only know we didn’t eat them. I guess it was a menu suggestion for the ears of corn that were purchased, along with the heads of cabbage, fresh green beans and kale or collards, depending on the time of year. Sweet potatoes or yams, also depending on the season.
Food was properly stored in the ice box, for which the ice man supplied a huge block of ice each week. Somehow it kept the food cold if placed conveniently in the bottom of the contraption that looked much like a refrigerator but needed the outside assist.
A big block of ice.
The cooking began each week with the prepping of the dough for yeast rolls that needed at least three risings before they merited the heat that would turn them into heavenly pillows that still bear the sin for the taste buds they titillated. I still love hot bread…only the Lord knows.
That’s a phrase we like to use to bottom line or emphasize the point we’re making. At the end of the day, the only thing that matters is…
At the end of the day, it’s the people who stick with you…
At the end of the day, real people find their way home.
These all make “the end of the day” the pivotal point in terms of importance.
I suggest the same.
At the end of the day, every day, we need to take few minutes before we go to bed and jot down the things that brought us joy and give God thanks. Maybe even add to the list the things and people that frustrated us, and thank him for those too, because they provided a growth opportunity and a teachable moment.
Most importantly, at the end of the day, we need to write down every situation and person who hurt or angered us; every instance that brought us pain or injury. Everything that threatens to become a permanent resident in our soul.
And when the list is complete, we need to burn it, or physically hand it over to the Lord – whatever works – giving God permission to wipe it away, move it away.
Giving God permission to empower us to start the new day with a clean slate – having forgiven willingly – even knowing it can only be a completed work with the help of the Holy Spirit – giving others the same fresh mercy and pure forgiveness God has already given to as many as would receive it.
Willing forgiveness every night is a sure prescription for peaceful sleep and a hope-filled awakening in the morning, ready to start a real new day.
Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.
This scripture never speaks specifically to God’s love, but how many ways can love be spoken without actually speaking its name. This is one of the most comforting assurances of God; God’s presence. I am with you. So fear not. Don’t let fear overcome you. Don’t let fear be your compass. Don’t embrace fear. Don’t let fear set your agenda. Don’t deny the presence of fear, but know its presence is dwarfed by the abiding, abundant presence of Almighty God.
Be not dismayed. God’s signature. I am your God. I belong to you. I chose you. I chose to be God to you. I am your God. My total “Godness” is available to you at all times. Because I chose to be your God. And as specific benefits of your belonging to me, and my belonging to you…I will strengthen you…I will make my strength to be your strength. I will help you…the resources of heaven and earth become your resources.
I will uphold you with my righteous right hand. With justice I will aright you, I will balance you, I will place you on an even keel in the universe and you will stand because I will stand with you.
How do I love thee? Let me count the ways. In this word, the ways of God’s love are recounted without even the mention of the word.
Foster kids always have stories. Have you noticed? When I was newly housed with my new family, it became apparent that crying was not an accepted behavior. I don’t think I had been a “cry baby,” even at the tender age of 6. Someone poisoned my puppy when I was about 4. I didn’t cry. Actually I think I was afraid of him. But I digress. My principal caregiver – my mother’s stepmother – got sick and had to be rushed to the hospital. I never saw her alive after that day. I was transplanted to the house of her son. While I knew him because of his frequent visits to his mom, I was not familiar with anyone else in the house. His wife looked at me with suspicion, or maybe it was fear of being saddled with me forever. Her sister, who had two sons, also peered at me, as if my coming could change her living arrangement. I didn’t cry. Even when I learned my grandmother had died. I didn’t cry.
When my sister and a cousin, I think, returned from an unusual trip to the playground – with Miss Arlene – and saw a huge dark wreath on the front door of my house. When we entered our dark house, in the middle of the afternoon, and saw a coffin in the living room with the form of my grandmother who I’d last seen before she’d gone to the hospital a week ago. When I realized she was really dead. I think I realized it. I’m not sure I understood in that moment. I didn’t cry.
So crying hadn’t been my habit. And yet somehow, the new family made it clear there would be no crying. It was said. But it was also modeled. No crying. No hugging. No kissing. No touching. No emotion. At all.
Even on my first Christmas Eve when presents were delivered by family members. Many family members. Many gifts. Some delicious gifts. Homemade coconut cake with three high layers. Homemade pies. To add to the goodie buffet that rested fully stocked throughout the holiday to New Year’s Day. No need for crying. Not until the Cousin came and said she’d left my gift in the car, after honestly declaring, “I forgot about you.” So I ran to the car with her, but there was no gift. And she said she’d bring it the next day. And she forgot. And every time she came, for more than a year, she’d say she’d forgotten. Too much forgetting for a 7-year old. But I didn’t cry.
It seems I learned through much early transplantation that crying was a waste of energy, my energy, that needed to be preserved so I could take reasonably good care of myself. Apparently I wasn’t going to be able to depend on adult people to put my needs first. Apparently I was going to be on my own. I would have to fend for myself. I would have to learn the ropes. I would have to be sure to breach no boundaries, break no rules, betray no emotions…or else. It was quite clear to me.
So I set up my walls. I wrapped myself with my own arms. I blanketed myself with the comfort I needed. I learned to be self sufficient and rely on no one to be “for” me. In the heart and mind of a 7-year old.
But today it’s Christmas Eve! And I’m no longer a 7-year old. And the very thoughts of Christmas make me cry. Almost everything makes me cry. The children who feel like I felt as a little girl. I cry for them, especially those who have hidden their tears away for fear of abandonment. The people who are locked away in government internment camps because they tried to save themselves from the tyranny that exists in their native countries. I cry for them. The people who are being killed for no reason. The people who are killing for no reason. I cry for them. The people with power whose hearts are cold toward those without power. The people who fear people who are different than they. I cry for them.
I also cry with rejoicing that it’s Christmas Eve. I cry with understanding that the Baby born in Bethlehem can still make a tremendous difference in the hearts of all people who will accept him. I cry with knowing that the justice he demands often invades the hearts of people before they even know it. I cry with love because the love with which he loves is infectious, it’s overwhelming, it’s beyond understanding or overcoming…and it’s available to everyone who will receive it. I cry with joy because his love is the great equalizer; it’s the one thing that can make a difference in this world. It’s what our hearts cry out for. It’s what our souls hunger for. Love without measure. Love without limits. Love without boundaries. Multicolored. Multilayered. Love. Love that will disarm. Love that will not harm. Undeniable. Unbelievable. Love. Merry Christmas! I love you! And you too!