Saturday, July 17, 2010

True Story

Real Gil's side of our family tree looks orderly and trimmed, while my side looks like it got sprayed with powerful fertilizer. With five living generations, it has lots of great stories and makes the tree nice and lopsided. Stories about folks rebelling and leaving the Amish, missing brothers who were quite possibly spotted with Native American tribes years later, a grandma who smoked a corncob pipe and became a Civil War widow...Somehow, the stories intertwined in California where my parents' lives mingled and merged.

One "branch" of our family at a recent reunion

Generations before me all lived in Southern California. Some even have streets named after them. It was my parents who decided to leave these deep roots. They dreamed of fresher air, narrower roads, and more opportunities.

So, they started by putting a For Sale sign in the front yard of the only home I could remember - a ranch-style four-bedroom house with metallic butterfly wallpaper in the front bathroom and gold specks in the kitchen linoleum. I used to try to peel up the linoleum to get at that stubborn gold, but it teased me with its inlaid permanency.

One day, not long after that scary sign was posted in our yard, my father went out to cut wood. (Doesn't that sound like Laura Ingalls? "Pa cut wood while we played ball with the dried pig's bladder..." I always had nightmares about that part.) While away, he tramped through one of the few remaining orange groves in the area and stumbled upon a man sitting under a tree. Other than the obvious meal of fresh oranges, he was hungry, homeless, and eager to work. My father brought him home for dinner.

Do not forget to entertain strangers...

His name was Greg and he ate with us that night, three girls all lined up at the table with my parents. He told us about his family in Montana, how he hoped to send them money soon. I remember getting soap in my eyes that night in the bath and when I came out to say good night to my dad, Greg patted me awkwardly on my wet head and asked if I was okay. I remember thinking he was nice.

Perhaps we should have been scared of a strange man, and I probably would have been, except that my father was big and strong and smart, and Greg seemed gentle and quiet. He lived in the camper parked behind my grandparents' home and worked during the day getting our house ready to sell. I can still see his silhouetted frame next to my father's, hammers in hand as they repaired roof shingles while we jumped rope in the driveway.

I recall drippy popsicles while paint slapped onto the siding...His seat at our kitchen table during meals, talking to our dad, nodding shyly to our mom.

...for by so doing...

I'm not sure how long it was before the work was finished, probably a month or so. Maybe longer.

But I distinctly remember the day Greg finished his work. My mother - always cooking or cleaning or encouraging or softening (don't those all go together in a mother's day?) - made a special meal to celebrate the mens' completion of the house. Now all that was needed was a buyer. The excitement - and perhaps, the anxiety - were palpable in the air. Could a buyer be found? Could these two twenty-eight year old high school sweethearts really uproot their children and move to an entirely different state? So that the bread winner of the family could start his own company? Uncertain times for sure!

My father came into the house, dirty and sweaty from their last day of work on the house. Walking down the hall towards a hot shower, he announced that Greg was going back to the trailer to take a shower of his own and then, he would return for dinner. Mom stirred, Dad prepared a paycheck made out to Greg. Maybe time slipped by quickly...and then, it slowed to a standstill. Because Greg was late to dinner. Then, after finally feeding us children, Greg's paycheck still sat unclaimed on the kitchen counter. Phone calls were made - first calmly to grandparents who looked in the trailer...then urgently to hospitals and jails throughout the area. For two days, my parents hunted for Greg. And never found him. Eventually, they ripped up the check. And called him an angel.

...some have unwittingly entertained angels. (Hebrews 13:2)

Skeptics might argue and label Greg a drifter, a man who wishes to remain hidden. I agree to all of these, but perhaps he was of the angelic type.

I had forgotten this story until today, when this verse was read aloud at church. At first, I scoffed mentally, wondering if angels really come to us like strangers. Then, I remembered Greg. And perhaps more important than an angelic drifter named Greg was the message my parents sent to us children - angels exist, God cares, and we can talk to Him who hears, really hears.

True hospitality is done in a Spirit that is not our own, One that empowers our hearts to be as open as our doors. From that will always flow glory to God, and blessings to children who watch it all.

Remembering His goodness today, His messengers who go unnoticed, unpaid, or doubted. And recalling His Spirit that can empower me today to be truly open with my home and my heart.

Resting in This,

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