I have a picture of my dad on my wall. The sleeves on his collared shirt are rolled up about three-fourths of the way, as he often wore them. His hands are in his pockets. And he has a huge grin on his face as he peers over the shoulder of my then 10-year-old niece (his granddaughter) who is unwrapping her birthday presents.
The picture captures the essence of who he was – someone who took pleasure in seeing his family happy. When I think about him, this picture comes to mind. I took it just a few weeks before he died unexpectedly. It turned out to be the definitive picture of him (at least for me), even though nobody had any idea that would be the case or that it would be one of the last photos taken of him.
Dad has been gone for twenty-one years now, but seeing that picture every time I make coffee in the morning warms my heart.
I have a picture of my cat, Midnight, on my fridge that my dad took. Her green eyes and long black fur (tinged with gray) shine as she proudly rests in my recliner. I don’t know why Dad took that picture, but I’m so glad he did.
Midnight saw me through a lot in her twenty years, and at the risk of sounding overly sentimental, she felt like a daughter to me (for the non-pet lovers in the audience, I’ll appeal to 2 Samuel 12:3 that describes a poor man who had nothing except an ewe lamb that he raised, grew up with, cradled in his arms, shared his food with, and “was like a daughter to him”).
Midnight has been gone for eleven years, but every time I open my fridge, I see her picture and it warms my heart. The photo that Dad took of her, seemingly at random, turned out to be the definitive picture of her life.
Like you, many of the positive definitive moments I’ve experienced weren’t captured on film. Some are simply memories, and those are equally as powerful.
The funny thing is, definitive moments often occur without our knowing it at the time (although, that’s not always the case, of course). These are our definitive moments. The other person (or animal, in my case) may not even remember them. And that’s okay. Maybe they aren’t supposed to.
Maybe definitive moments are gifts from above that are just supposed to cement something in our memories (that are representative of the way a person made us feel or a moment that is supposed to spur us on during great difficulty) the way the twelve stones on the banks of the Jordan were supposed to remind Israel for generations to come about God’s faithfulness as they entered the Promised Land.
I only know this … I’m grateful for the positive definitive moments I’ve experienced. I bet you are too. Would you mind sharing one or two in the comments section?
When I see a recurring theme in my life, I try to take notice.
Earlier this week, I finished reading a novel titled A New Song (Book 5 in the Mitford Series) by Jan Karon. In it, the protagonist – a semi-retired Episcopalian priest named Timothy – takes a temporary position as the pastor of a new church in a city he’s never visited. While he and his wife are there, they experience a new song in the form of new relationships, giving them new opportunities to tell other people about God’s mercies.
The day after I finished the novel, I read Psalm 40 during my devotions. In it, David is writing about the Lord drawing him from the pit of destruction, out of his miry bog, and setting his feet on a rock, making his steps secure. “He put a new song in my mouth,” he writes, “a song of praise to our God. Many will see and fear, and put their trust in the Lord.”
New songs are about more than just new opportunities or different circumstances. When the Lord puts a new song in our mouths, it contains different lyrics than the old song we used to sing. And the new song draws others to the Lord, while the old song tends to draw people away.
The old song I used to sing still runs through my head sometimes, and I even catch myself humming along once in a while. I guess that puts me in the same company as everybody else. We all battle with lyrics that are competing for our tongues and ultimately, our hearts. May the new song always win out. May it always be our default, for God’s glory.
God really does work in mysterious ways. But often, it takes me a while to catch on.
My neighbor across the street recently lost his thirty-something-year-old daughter. She had multiple health issues. Earlier this week, I spotted him outside for the first time since hearing about her death and went over to offer my condolences.
As we were parting, I told him to call or text if I could provide a meal or anything else his family needs.
A couple of days later – yesterday – a lawn service pulled up in front of my house. The guy who runs the service I normally use is on vacation this week, so he told me he was sending another service to cover him. Meanwhile, the service that had parked in front started mowing my neighbor’s grass (yes, the same neighbor), which I thought was sort of curious since he normally does his own yard. But I figured that with so much going on, he might have decided to hire someone to do it for him one time.
Then it hit me. This is probably the service my guy sent.
I texted my guy, and he confirmed that he had sent them, so I went outside and explained the situation. They were just finishing my neighbor’s yard by then. But they were good sports and jumped in and did my yard next, saying they had done their good deed for the day.
That sparked a simple idea.
I texted my guy and told him that my neighbor had just lost his daughter. And I told him that I’d pay him for mowing my neighbor’s yard.
“I’ve been wondering if there was something I could do for him,” I texted. “So, this is perfect. God works in mysterious ways.”
“You aren’t lying,” he said.
That led to an exchange about his cousin who is also dying. I plan to follow up with him periodically to let him know I’m praying for his family.
None of this would’ve happened if a lawn service hadn’t mowed my neighbor’s yard by “mistake.” But I’m sure glad they did.
Six weeks ago, I had what was supposed to be a minor surgical procedure on my feet. My podiatrist said I should be able to get back to my walking routine at the gym in about two weeks.
Two ER trips due to complications, a nasty case of plantar fasciitis and a COVID scare later, I’m still not back at the gym. And judging from my slow healing pace, I’m guessing it’s going to take another month or two.
And that’s okay.
I’ve long since given up the notion that everything is supposed to go as planned. When it does, we tend to rely on our ways, our plans, ourselves. When it doesn’t, we tend to look for Jesus.
“You are in the desert,” Spurgeon wrote* about John 14:19 [that says, “Because I live, ye shall live also]. “There is a secret spring under your feet and you know not where it is; this is the mysterious finger that points you to the spot. Contemplate Christ, believe in Christ, draw yourselves by faith nearer and nearer to the Lord Jesus Christ, and so shall your life receive a divine impetus [a force that moves something along] that it has not known for many a day.”
It’s not lost on me that I have a secret spring under my ailing feet. And while my health concerns are minor compared to many others, it’s still driving me to search for the mysterious finger that points me to the secret spring that is Christ. It’s made my thirst for him deeper, more desperate.
Your failed plans are different than mine. But because Christ lives, you shall live also. Allow your failures, your hardships and your struggles to cause you to contemplate him, believe in him and draw nearer to him, knowing that you, too, have a secret spring under your feet.
* 3-Minute Devotions with Spurgeon
I’ve told you before that I’m a sentimental old fool. Some of you probably shake your heads in wonder and others are riding the same train with me.
For the latter group, you might relate to what I’m about to say.
In my old neighborhood, I used to drive by an old Taco Bell building that had been converted into a State Farm insurance agent’s office. I always had a desire to go through the drive-thru to order a nacho supreme and a life insurance policy.
An old Dunkin’ Donuts building sits next to the old Taco Bell. It’s a Subway now. I used to stop there for lunch a couple of times a month, but I never really bought the idea that it was a Subway. It was a Dunkin’ Donuts that just so happened to serve foot-long oven-roasted chicken sandwiches on Italian bread.
On that same street, about a block away, an old Big Boy restaurant has been converted into a Pizza Hut. I’ll never see it as a Pizza Hut. The vision of the Big Boy statue that used to sit out front is still too vivid, even though it’s been gone for more than thirty years.
If I could have things my way, I’d adopt the philosophy of Stars Hollow – the fictional town from the Gilmore Girls (no asking how I know about such things).
Luke owns and operates a cafe in the same building his dad used to own Williams Hardware. In one of the first season episodes, the camera pans away from Luke’s cafe and you can still see the Williams Hardware sign. Nobody seems to mind. They know they can enter Williams Hardware to order a cheeseburger.
Another store owner has a restaurant called Al’s Pancake World. It doesn’t serve pancakes. He started by serving pancakes but switched to international cuisine shortly thereafter. He didn’t change the name because he printed too many napkins with the original name. The town isn’t in an uproar over the non-name change.
Stars Hollow respects tradition. I like that.
If I were the mayor of my hometown, I’d advocate for an ordinance that says once a building is named, it can never be renamed. How fun would it be to watch someone from out of town go through a Taco Bell drive-thru and be greeted by an insurance agent who says, “Welcome to State Farm. We have discount rates available on car insurance today. Would you like that in a combo with renter’s insurance?”