Part One of this can be read here.
Donald sits at the kitchen table in silence, blankly gazing at the back yard.
The wisteria are getting a little ragged, and need to be trimmed. The open window to his left allows in a few bugs. Hummingbirds rob the feeders and robins snatch up the seed Donald scattered on the flat river rocks at 4;30 that morning. Iris had a rough night, so he gave up on sleep after 4:00.
Silence. Sip of coffee. A glance at the worn study Bible in front of him.
He wasn’t always a believer. The late 60’s were filled with skepticism, and it wasn’t until a late night walk in 1970 that he joined the ranks of Bible-believing Baptists. Iris was thrilled, though they both recognized that she’d never realize her dream of becoming a missionary. At any rate, having absorbed the workaholic characteristics of his father, Donald threw himself into the Word and the church.
He was their first Sunday School teacher for young married adults. When church leaders decried a lack of outreach for singles, Donald took that on. When leaders in the youth department lacked enough serious teachers, he taught high school boys (much to his son’s dismay). Youth director search committees. Head of Sunday School department. Deacon. Building and grounds committee. Church janitor. Youth director. Nursery worker. Christmas parties and prayer vigils. Rebuilding the church after the flood in ’79, despite having lost the Christian bookstore into which he had sunk his retirement funds.
The kids grew up and went their own ways, making the mistakes their parents programmed them to make. The most beautiful grandchildren in the world arrived, 6 of them. Donald retired earlier than he wanted in order to be close to Iris. Her immobility shrank her world physically, and narrowed Donald’s as well. He cares for the yard, the house, the ailing love of his life. He doggedly attends a new church in a strip mall out on highway 5126, just before you get to the Kilgore lumber yard.
The aging teacher sighs and resurrects himself from the table. There’s laundry to do, and dishes to wash. He staggers down the hall to check on Iris, lying in her hospital bed in the last room on the left. She’s there (where else would she be?), listening to one of her programs. Today’s a good day, so he tosses the medicines and needles into a drawer, and thinks, “So…today You’re gonna help us?”
He meanders back towards the kitchen, right hand trailing along the wall for support, past the bookshelves filled with concordances and commentaries, Francis Shaeffer and Dietrich Bonhoeffer. His guitar languishes in the corner, its leather case hoarding dust. It’s a 1960 Gibson acoustic guitar with mother-of-pearl inlaid frets.
Donald taught himself how to play the guitar back in high school, and at one time could tune it using a piano despite not knowing one key from another. That was before his hearing began to slip in his twenties. Musically gifted man loses hearing prematurely. As Molly Ivins wrote, such a thing was “…evidence that the Great Scriptwriter in the sky has an overdeveloped sense of irony.”
Ah, well, he thinks. What’s another pleasure lost? Don’t all things end?
Chores completed, Donald returns to the kitchen and his cold coffee. He and the Bible on the table ignore one another.
Bad days often follow rough nights, and today is no exception. “Where,” he muses, “is God today? Is He in my forgetfulness? My exhaustion? Does He reside in Iris’ broken frame or the geographical distance between us and the kids? Is He in our former church, the one that pushed us out after 30 years of service?” He shrugs his thoughts aside, and pulls out an outline for another church play he’s been working on. This one is about brothers and forgiveness. Before too long, though, the papers are forgotten as Donald stares out the window again.
When Donald was saved, it was a rescue from the meaninglessness of agnosticism. He feared an existence without significance, and discovering the reality of Christ gave Donald a peace that transcended all else. Now, though, after more than 6 decades on earth, he wants more.
More than mere survival. More than preparing a Sunday School lesson just so the process keeps at bay the specter of skepticism. More than merely putting one spiritual foot in front of the other. More than searching godly books for new perspectives on old truths in order not to forget those truths.
Snapping awake, Donald wonders how long he’s been asleep, and rises to make the trek southwards back through the house to see if Iris is doing well. She can’t holler loud enough to summon Donald, so he’s got to see her just to hear her. “Open your eyes and listen” is the old family joke.
Iris’ needs satisfied, Donald makes it as far as the couch before giving up.
He slouches on the edge, looking through the door into the sun room they added on to the house 18 years ago. He can see the dining table he made of some beautiful maple planks. Through the doorframe from the sun room streams enough afternoon light to softly illumine the living room. Outside the window, beautiful birds are flittering and dancing over seeds and flowers. The wisteria bobs sleepily in the wind, brushing against a tire swing with its clusters of purple-lavender blooms that evoke images of grapes. Through the open windows waft rich scents of gardenias and honeysuckle. In the foreground, pictures of the grandkids beam at him from the end table that holds his glasses and a book by his favorite apologist. Donald begins to hum an old hymn, one he and his mother used to sing as he played the guitar. He thinks about supper, about the fancy lasagna he’s planning to cook for Iris. She’s gonna love it.
He surprises himself with a quiet prayer, “It’s beautiful, this place You’ve made. All of it. Thank you for every last bit of it.”
And for a time, a Spirit-filled moment of beauty and joy silences the hounds of doubt sufficiently for Donald to sleep.