5 words she said to me. I did not know that these were the last words she would speak to me on this earth.
Grandma. The hands which gave me my first Bible and prompted me to read it before a church congregation at the age of 4. Hands that eased me through a week long stomach virus while living in her home. Hands that both eased coughs away, and beat my behind for lying. Those hands were about my neck in the apartment she last lived in, surrounded by what belongings she kept from a lifetime of marriage and over 20 years of widowhood, hugging my face to hers.
"Remember to Whom you belong."
At some level I knew what she meant. I knew to capitalize the first pronoun in my mind as I heard it, and not the second, at least.
The fathoms of my own blind ignorance, however, were just beneath the thin veneer of my nod into her warm neck; as deep a deception as the thought that, just as I had soothed myself with countless times over the years, I would visit her again while she still inhabited her flesh.
I yielded nothing. I submitted nothing. I had the temerity to think to fit God into my life, let Him be my steering wheel instead of bowing to Him in humble submission and having Him drive. True worship... denial of self... true humility... was lip service at best.
The same murderous delusion as that which dwells within the vast majority of all who lay claim to the title "Christian".
I did not even begin to know how to accept the fullness of what she was given to know. Whether by the truth; of the filthy rags of anything which *I* could do to live a clean life acceptable in His sight, or the lie; of the utter devaluation of my self worth's currency--I did not even see her words past my horrifyingly feeble hope... that I would somehow die within the handful of seconds between "repentance" of sin, and the commission anew of what I had just declared I would never do again. All her guidance, her cajoling... her hours of conversation on the phone, or one on one, throughout decades of life, whether in times of inner peace or scarcely reined atomic fury, all coalesced into those five words.
The LORD, Whom she faithfully served, granted me the grace to have the scales removed from my eyes regarding her words.
8 *years* after she died.
When I lived in Brooklyn, many of the members of my father's church lived on Bainbridge Street with us. I would see them several times a week, on the way to and from school or church. It was part of the continuity I so cherished. One of them lived across Stuyvesant Avenue, about 6 or seven houses from the corner. I can not at the time of this writing remember her name (see: senility) but she was an elderly lady who was very kind to me. I shoveled the snow from before her house in the winter in addition to ours, but we shared a common interest which I have recently recovered in her honor.
She was a lover of green growing things, as I was. One of my folks told her about my interest, and she invited me into her brownstone one day to show me her many well cared for plants. I remember at age 13 or so, looking in the front room of her home, just to the left of the iron-wrought entry, looking over the green plants, and doing a double take at colors and shapes I did not expect. Closer inspection revealed that she had, growing in Brooklyn, New York, two different kinds of fruit trees, miniature versions of their tropical counterparts; an orange tree. the golf ball sized oranges catching my eye from the hallway, and one I did not recognize. It was the largest of all, sat in a pot on the floor, and had spreading, intricate leaves at the top of a long brownish trunk without bark, and a gathering of fruit clustered where the top of the trunk met the explosion of leaves.
I asked what it was, seeing that she had 4 or 5 other, smaller versions of it, in smaller pots in the sills facing the front of her home among her other plants. "That is a papaya tree," she said in her contralto voice. She went on to answer all my questions about how the trees are cared for, and how with proper care they would fruit all year round. When it was time for me to leave, she kindly rewarded my obvious interest and handed me a few small, wrinkled, black seeds in a "dixie" cup.
I spent the next couple of years trying to replicate what she had done, but in my own bedroom window. I had yet to learn that the heat register directly above said window placed too much dry air on the young plants, although one of them grew to a decent height and even flowered. but did not produce fruit (I'm thinking now, in retrospect, that this one was a male, which produces no fruit but is advisable to have for pollination).
The 28 or so years (...*wowzers*) since I fell in love with the papaya tree saw little to no opportunity to have one. The thought of growing one in Washington D.C. struck me as just wrong; my reasoning--why on earth would I subject another living thing to live in hell along with me...? I relegated the memory of the papaya tree and the kind neighbor who taught me about them to the inviolate place in my memory where I stored all things and people from Brooklyn; the place where I lived before consignment to... well, you know.
Anyway, a 41 year old man looked at the memory this past January and thought, "Hey, man, you're an adult (sort of) a husband and father... go ahead and get some seeds and some soil and do honor to that memory, Steve." And I did; I ordered some seeds from a place in Hawaii, learned that there are several types of papaya, and ordered the one called "Linda" in honor of the beautiful woman who is my wife and mother of my children. When they arrived in a tiny, air tight envelope, I bought some soil and degradable pots, and planted 4 seeds, all in the midst of a pleasant moment reliving the memory of what I had been taught about planting the seeds only so deep, and watering the soil every day, expecting to be able to see the seedlings inside of two weeks or so.
Two weeks came and went. Nothing. 3 weeks. A month. NADA.
Every morning, when making breakfast for the girls in the morning school routine, I would look on the kitchen sill above the sink.
I'd water it faithfully each day. Wait another week. Tumbleweeds.
At one point I held the pot in one hand while no one was looking, twisted up my mouth, and from the depths of useless knowledge in my memory banks, pulled out Doug E. Fresh, complete with 1980s echo chamber:
"WEEEEEE, the unwilling, led by the unknowing, are doing the impossible for the ungrateful... We have done so much, for so long, with so little-ittle-ittle, that we are now qualified to do anything with-with-with-with... NOTHIN-othin-othin... Say what?... NOTHIN-othin-othin... I can't hear you!... NOTHIN-othin-othin..."
A mind is a terrible thing.
After over 6 weeks, two seedlings appeared. At the same exact moment, both in the same state of unfolding from the soil on the same exact morning. Two. So what if I planted 4--two appeared, in sync, in thrice the expected germination time.
Herein lies a lesson in the sovereignty of the LORD. I can be as huge a control freak as I want to be; I am not in control. The One Who determines which seeds will grow and when is the same One Who determined when and where I would exist, and determines how long my heart will beat and my lungs will take in air. I must continuously trust and obey the LORD, and all pretense of control I exert over something is precisely that, a pitiful pretense, lasting the equally pitiful length of time it takes to be born on this earth and die. Obey and trust Him with all you have in you, that He may be glorified." That's all there is.
I look at that pot of baby papaya trees and thank the LORD for the lesson; I am to be faithful and concentrate on doing what I am here to do, and things will happen in His way, in His time, in accordance with His good pleasure and as He sees fit. Not the way *I* want it, beacuse that is less than irrelevant. Not the way *you* want it, either, save by happy coincidence of your will being in alignment with His own over a particular thing. Don't look at your own will, Steve. Don't even hold any bit of it in your hand or clutch it to your chest because your flesh craves/wants/will sell your soul for a nickel for its own sake to obtain. Give it to the Father and accept that *He* is LORD and not you. Trust and obey Him above *you* and your will's delusion of might and strength. Love Him with all that you have, and your true neighbor as yourself, and be thankful... BE THANKFUL EVERY NANOSECOND OF YOUR LIFE... that He made you a good seed, one of His, from before the foundation of the world, for His glory, and not a tare, indistinguishable from the wheat, but known... *known* beyond all doubt... to those who will harvest.
"Jesus told them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like a man who sowed good seed in his field. But while everyone was sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and went away. When the wheat sprouted and formed heads, then the weeds also appeared. “The owner’s servants came to him and said, ‘Sir, didn’t you sow good seed in your field? Where then did the weeds come from?’
“‘An enemy did this,’ he replied.
“The servants asked him, ‘Do you want us to go and pull them up?’
“‘No,’ he answered, ‘because while you are pulling the weeds, you may root up the wheat with them. Let both grow together until the harvest. At that time I will tell the harvesters: First collect the weeds and tie them in bundles to be burned; then gather the wheat and bring it into my barn.’”" Matthew 13:24-30
"Then he left the crowd and went into the house. His disciples came to him and said, “Explain to us the parable of the weeds in the field.”
He answered, “The one who sowed the good seed is the Son of Man. The field is the world, and the good seed stands for the sons of the kingdom. The weeds are the sons of the evil one, and the enemy who sows them is the devil. The harvest is the end of the age, and the harvesters are angels.
“As the weeds are pulled up and burned in the fire, so it will be at the end of the age. The Son of Man will send out his angels, and they will weed out of his kingdom everything that causes sin and all who do evil. They will throw them into the fiery furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. He who has ears, let him hear." Matthew 13:36-43
We covered these verses in our Bible study recently. My brother in Christ, Cyril Jermin, said, "Anyone who is familiar at all with farming knows that a farmer keeps a collection of choice seeds, and determines when and where they will be planted. We were in *His* hand, sown from His hand..."
"...before the foundation of the world." I spoke aloud. And, remembering my grandmother's final admonishment to me, I cried in front of all of those people. It was one of the few moments in my life when it took all of my strength to restrain weeping in strangled silence, and not let it pour out of me in shameless floods.
"Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ: According as He hath chosen us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love:" Ephesians 1:3-4
""Then the King will say to those on his right, 'Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world." Matthew 25:34
"And this is the will of Him who sent me, that I shall lose none of all that He has given me, but raise them up at the last day." John 6:39
"All inhabitants of the earth will worship the beast--all whose names have not been written in the book of life belonging to the Lamb that was slain from the creation of the world." Revelation 13:8
No longer do I need to search for stones in my soil. No longer do I have a place to harbor any doubt of whether I am sheep or belligerent goat. I belong to Him. I am His sheep, and hear His voice. The sure knowledge that I am His and He has ransomed me is *not* license to act any way I want, but an opportunity to show my gratitude and serve Him more faithfully.
Thank You, Father, for a heart that wants to trust and obey *You* above what I want. You gave this to me despite the fact that I am the wretch the song Amazing Grace refers to.
Thank You, Father, for a heart that knows that the *only* thing which we are all genetically predisposed to do is SIN, and that we can only be freed from that condition through Your salvation; being one of Yours, sown in the world by Your hand and written in the Book of Life before the world was even made.
Thank You, Father, for teaching me to learn my place and stay in it; a creation. A bit of shadows and dust You formed. That *You* ALONE are God, and that You ALONE are sovereign over everything.
Thank You for a grandmother who loved me enough to convey to me with everything she had to remember to Whom I belong, and for Your choosing to let me live long enough to accept it as truth.