But Father, By Your Grace

Dearest Rachel –

I almost feel the need to apologize for upstaging you today; this being Sunday, I would be posting (and I have posted) some of your notes from the Purpose-Driven Life journal you were working on in 2004. But this is likely to overshadow it, I’m afraid.

Of course, why shouldn’t it? Marathon Sunday happens but once a year – if that; see 2020 – and I will actually be going down there to cheer Erin on. I may have dropped out from my attempt to run this thing, but she’s gone through with it, and deserves all the encouragement I can and should give her for her efforts. She should be arriving at the Team World Vision meet-up place (wherever that is) about now, in fact.

And I’ll be honest, the only thing I can think of as I’m wrapping up preparations to get down there and wish her (and the other runners from the Bridge, not to mention the rest of Team World Vision) as much encouragement as I can give her/them is a song by Steve Taylor that compares the Christian life to a marathon (or perhaps more accurately, to a steeplechase or something like the Tough Mudder).

I’d include the official video, but in all honesty, it basically seems to have him dancing and singing in various locations throughout Indochina, of all places; it’s well-photographed, but it doesn’t really focus on the story of the song. So, I’ve put a video with the lyrics up at the opening of this letter. I may add the official video at the end (if I have the time), so you can see what I’m talking about.

The point is, while Erin (and everyone else) is running for the finish line, you’ve already made it there.

Anyway, if you’ll indulge my going through it, and reflecting on both Erin’s literal, and your metaphorical, races… oh, and my applying rule 63 to the lyrics, because, well… you’re both girls, after all.

Once upon an average morn
An average [girl] was born for the second time

I wouldn’t consider Easter morning to be an “average morn,” but some Easters are more special than others. Especially in our hyper-commercialized society, where the focus seems to be a secularized as possible to avoid offending others, Easter, while still recognized for what it is in most quarters, is sometimes just another plug for the confectioners’ industry.

Prone upon the altar there
[She] whispered up the prayer [she’d] kept hid inside

You’d mentioned how you’d held yourself back from going forward for a considerable time during your childhood. I’ll never know who Teri Norman was, but if I do run into her on either side of the veil, I’ll know to thank her for bringing you to where you are now.

And to think, it was all thanks to an offhand off-topic tangent she decided to go on that morning… you just never know what you do or say that will make a difference for someone, do you?

On the more earthly side of things, I still feel like I can take some credit for encouraging Erin to do what she’s doing. Part of me regrets not being able to run alongside her, but most of me assures the rest that I’ve chosen prudently, if not necessarily rightly. I’m still astonished that she jumped at the call; I was so certain that – between her graveyard shift schedule and her constant state of exhaustion when we would see her (due to said schedule) – that she would never agree to it. And yet, here she is. Bless her.

The vision came
[She] saw the odds
A hundred little gods on a gilded wheel
“These will vie to take your place, but Father
By your grace I will never kneel”

In running, as in life, there are so many distractions; so many other things you would rather be doing, so many other things that need doing that would crowd time for training out. We Westerners do not grasp the idea of worshipping physical idols, but we pour so much time and energy down so many rabbit holes. That time and treasure signifies the value we assign to those things – applying worth to them, or “worth-shipping” them. It’s where the word comes from, after all.

And I saw you, upright and proud
And I saw you wave to the crowd
And I saw you laughing out loud at the philistines

I don’t think I ever saw you this level of cocky about anything or anyone. Nor do I think Erin has ever experienced that level of hyper-confidence about her own running. She’s new to this, too, and knows what she can and cannot do. But it is a dangerous tendency we have as humans to overestimate ourselves.

And I saw you brush away rocks
And I saw you pull up your socks
And I saw you out of the blocks
For the finish line

I wasn’t there when you came forward to accept Jesus as your Savior; I didn’t need to be. All that mattered was that you and I travelled that road together with Him. I only wish we were still together on the road; the rocks are getting more difficult to brush away these days. Heck, they’re nearly impossible to even lift to move out of the way.

Meanwhile, Joan tells me that (thanks to the incident in Boston several years ago) crowds aren’t allowed at the beginning and ending of the race; Erin will have to start and finish the race alone. Well, she won’t be starting the race alone… there will be hundreds, if not thousands of other runners coming out of that initial chute for her to pick her way through in the course of finding her own path. But there will be no one curbside to cheer her on at first – although in fairness, she’s run so many lonely miles in training already that it may not phase her.

Darkness falls
The devil stirs
And as your vision blurs you start stumbling

This is where the analogy kind of breaks down, or at least the comparison to the marathon decays. They’re saying it will be bright and sunny for the runners today – almost too much so, as they’d do better in a 50-degree chill rather than 80-degree heat. But they’ve been training throughout the likes of July and August, so this shouldn’t be all that awful. Still, I certainly wouldn’t run that far in it.

That being said, it would seem that darkness and excess sunlight pose their own hazards; there is no perfect path

The heart is weak
The will is gone
And every strong conviction comes tumbling down

Honestly, this feels more like what I’m dealing with in your absence; I find myself wondering what to point is in continuing, at my lowest. And certainly, I literally failed when I started to deal with those shin splints – I could not find the resolve to go on that Erin has. And for that, I salute her.

Of course, in life – particularly, the Christian walk – there is no opting out. Time moves forward, and so do you. The only question is whether to go forward with Him or on your own. At that point, all I have to fall back on are Peter’s words in John 6:68, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.”

Malice rains
The acid guile is sucking at your shoes while the mud is fresh
It floods the trail
It bleeds you dry
As every little god buys its pound of flesh

Now, Steve’s description more resembles the Tough Mudder as opposed to a marathon. But each has its own level of exhaustion, its own set of challenges that make you want to give up, head for the sidelines, and just rest rather than move on. Every distraction takes its own toll, and as it turns out, we don’t have exact change on us.

Toll Road Tips - Tollsmart
Anybody got any dimes?

As that commencement speech said, “The race is long, and in the end, it’s only with yourself.”

And I saw you licking your wounds
And I saw you weave your cocoons

There are times when you find yourself just wanting to curl up into a safe space, untouched any further by the world. I know I was like that in high school for the longest time, not wanting to interact with others, because I somehow knew I would get hurt. And while high school is the absolute wrong time to peak in one’s life, I think I may have missed out on a lot by withdrawing as much as I did.

Imagine how much worse I – or we, for that matter – would have been were we wrapped in the cocoon of current technology. We would barely exist in real life, would we?

And I saw you changing your tunes for the party line

I’m going to set aside both you and Erin for a moment, here. There are times at home, when Daniel is listening to whoever (speaking of current technology), that I just have to leave the room and leave him to it. Thanks to those people online, he is convinced that God in on the side of but one political party, and will restore His chosen orange man in the fullness of time (i.e., before the end of the year). His God has become a Republican God, and I don’t think the Lord is that small.

But I can’t seem to convince him of that, and rather than argue, I just walk away, much like our current alleged prexy. I worry that it makes me a terrible parent, but I haven’t the wisdom to know how best to respond to his ‘party line.’ All I can do is wait for it to come to naught, even as I find myself hoping against hope that he and his are right (although, given their – and by extension, his – claims of what the ‘other side’ has been doing, I can’t say that I want those allegations to be proven true).

And I saw you welsh on old debts
I saw you and your comrades bum cigarettes
And you hemmed and you hawed
And you hedged all your bets
Waiting for a sign

More on my attempts to deal with Daniel; I find myself saying that the Lord is not going to intervene in the political world, that it’s a trifling thing that’s not really worth His time in the grand scheme of things. This, after I’ve asserted that, if He’s concerned with holding each and every atom together, He’s more than willing to assist us in ‘trifling’ things like, say, finding a parking space, rather than leaving it to various so-called ‘patron’ saints.

In essence, I’m hedging my bets now, as no signs have been forthcoming. And I’m trying to tell Daniel to do the same.

Is there going to be a millstone necklace in my future because of this?

Only if Daniel wavers from his own beliefs, I suppose. Thus far, I have been unable to persuade him from his course; it up to God and time to determine which of us is right.

Let’s wash our hands as we throw little fits
Let’s all wash our hands as we curse hypocrites

Completely different story here; my Dad would tell me about his older brother Don, who’d gotten a doctorate in biology and spent his career in academia, at the University of Texas (where he’d dealt personally with the likes of LBJ, among other alumni) and Amherst College. Given his profession, he wandered away from his own faith, claiming there were too many hypocrites in the church. Dad asked him about whether there were any such people among his university colleagues, to which he responded with vigorous affirmation.

“And yet, you continue to work with them?”

“…touché, Ralph.”

As an additional aside, I would mention (although I will admit it isn’t an original line with me) that, if a hypocrite is keeping you from God, said hypocrite is still closer to God than you are.

We’re locked in the washroom turning old tricks
And joyless
And full of it

I never understood this part of the lyrics, honey. Turning tricks in a washroom? I suppose it’s like the comparison Hosea makes of Israel to his unfaithful wife Gomer – by abandoning our ‘first love,’ like the Ephesians, we are, for all intents and purposes, spiritual whores.

It’s not a comfortable thought, to say the least.

The vision came
[She] saw the odds
A hundred little gods on a gilded wheel
“These have tried to take your place, but Father
By your grace I will never kneel
I will never kneel…”

While you never saw the end coming, perhaps in those moments when you felt yourself heading toward the light, you saw those things of earth “growing strangely dim,” as the hymn says. Did you sense the assurance that “no, I didn’t kneel to those; I’m heading to Your side, Father. You kept me upright in the good times and bad, and now… “

Off in the distance
Bloodied but wise
As you squint with the light of the truth in your eyes

I have yet to see what the route will look like, and whether Erin and the rest of them will be running into the sunlight as they reach the final chute. Considering that she expects to clock in between four and five hours, that would have her crossing the line early in the afternoon, long before sunlight becomes an impediment to one’s vision.

Hopefully, she won’t trip anywhere along the route, causing her to suffer any injury along the way like the runner in Steve’s narrative.

And I saw you
Both hands were raised
And I saw your lips move in praise
And I saw you steady your gaze
For the finish line

As with the starting gate, I won’t be there to see her finish; the last mile is, according to Joan, encased in a chute to prevent what happened in Boston from happening here. As a result, that final mile is run alone and – I would expect – in silence. Just like how everyone dies alone, even if they’re in the midst of a crowd: that light shines upon you and you alone to escort you home individually.

I probably won’t even be able to see her where the team meets afterward in Grant Park, either; what information I can glean suggests that admission is restricted to runners and those with tickets. Even family and friends are kept out without a ticket. There’s probably a parable here, but I’m not sure I want to go into it.

Every idol like dust
The Word scattered them all

And I rose to my feet when you scaled the last wall
And I gasped
When I saw you fall
In his arms
At the finish line

I wish I could have seen the scene in heaven as He ushered you in. I wish you could tell me what exactly it’s like up there. I know words can’t describe it, but it’s so hard for us to envision it that any little tidbits of information would add to the sum total of our limited knowledge.

A week or so ago, we wrapped up our sermon series on the Apostle’s Creed, and our belief “in the life everlasting,” and how we spend so much time and effort on the here and now, rather than on the hereafter. Junior talked about the planning that goes into a mere vacation by way of contrast; you remember how we used to make ‘battle plans’ each morning when we honeymooned at Disney World, for instance – which rides we would line up for when, which restaurants we would reserve upon entering the park, that sort of thing. Well, Fodor’s doesn’t make a guide to heaven, and I wouldn’t trust it to be reliable if they attempted it, in any event. How do you plan for eternity, when you only know how to experience each moment in a discrete, linear fashion? Of course, we fail, because we literally don’t know any better what to expect.

Erin and the others will have earned their medals and deserved the honor of having “finished the course,” and whatever they raised for the villages in Africa in need of clean, accessible water. I wonder what your crown of righteousness look like in comparison: studded with amethysts, I would guess? And yet, I know you would lay it before His feet, humbly admitting that, whatever you had done in this life, it was as nothing compared to what He had done to ensure that you were even there.

I wonder if there’ll be any Lou Malnati’s at the Lamb’s wedding feast. Wonder if Lou himself is there, come to think of it. So many things to wonder about, both sublime and ridiculous… and no way to get answers until I join you.

Keep an eye out for us, honey, and wish us luck.

Published by randy@letters-to-rachel.memorial

I am Rachel's husband. Was. I'm still trying to deal with it. I probably always will be.

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