The Day We Won

I sat next to him at dinner that night. Over frozen pizzas, scotch eggs, and whatever other potluck offerings the men had brought, he tossed a comment into the conversation that stopped me cold.

“Well, my sister died of metal poisoning.”

We all looked at him, confused by the odd phrase. He glanced up at us and waved a hand in the air. “A bomb. She was in the front garden when it fell. Wasn’t enough left to bury.”

The three or four other white-haired men around the table nodded or shrugged as if to say, “Oh, that…” and the topic shifted to the war and the changes it had made in our area on the far side of Heathrow. Most of them admitted to not yet being born when World War II ended in 1945, but they grew up close enough in time that they spoke as if they knew it – spoke with a casualness born from the reality of living with the effects it had wrought upon their families.

I’d lived near London for over a year at that point and walked past monuments and memorials to both world wars nearly every day. I’d pondered the Blitz and how it reshaped the city I knew. But until that moment around a dining room table with a handful of British men more than twice my age, I had never fully understood what it meant to the daily lives of those who lived through it.

Today is VE Day – the day when the Allied victory in Europe was announced all those years ago. While it wasn’t the end of the war, this was the day when the madness of Hitler was officially stopped in its tracks – the day when those who stood against him could finally start to peel back the darkness he’d laid across the land and rescue the people trapped in the camps, villages, and cities.

It was a day to celebrate and rejoice that the long horror would have an end.

Image found at

In one of his non-Narnian books, C.S. Lewis wrote that we have to remember that spells are not always curses – that they are used to break enchantments as well as to cast them, and that we are in need of something to break an enchantment so strong we don’t always even know it’s there.

G.K. Chesterton wrote – and has since been paraphrased by many others – that we need to tell our children stories about dragons and about the knights who defeat them because it’s the only way they’ll learn the dragons can, in fact, be defeated.

And in Old English, the word “spell” simply meant a story, narrative, or sermon. There was no magic involved in the Anglo-Saxon understanding of the word – other than the inherent power of stories to change our minds and our lives.

In his speech to the British public on this day 75 years ago, Winston Churchill said:

… We were the first, in this ancient island, to draw the sword against tyranny. … Did anyone want to give in? Were we down-hearted? The lights went out and the bombs came down. But every man, woman and child in the country had no thought of quitting the struggle. … So we came back after long months from the jaws of death, out of the mouth of hell, while all the world wondered: When shall the reputation and faith of this generation of English men and women fail?

I say that in the long years to come, not only will the people of this island but of the world – wherever the bird of freedom chirps in human hearts – look back to what we’ve done and they will say, “Do not despair. Do not yield to violence and tyranny. March straight forward and die, if need be, unconquered.”

Prime Minister Winston Churchill, 8 May 1945

Our world changes these days at a rate that is frightening to some and invigorating to others. Sometimes it seems as though we’ve barely learned the new status quo and then it all flips upside down and we’re left scrambling to keep up – but through it all, we have one tool that can be passed on from generation to generation to keep us strong.

We have our stories. And stories – the right kind of story – can change the world.

Today is VE Day, and it is only nominally recognized in much of the news headlines and social media tags that consume us. It is not celebrated – not really – yet this is one of the greatest stories in still-living history:

Once upon a time, there was a madman who controlled armies from his throne in the center of Europe. The curse he cast from his mountain strongholds crawled relentlessly across borders, and the shadows it carried killed any who tried to escape. The madman thought he could rule the whole world until, one day, his curse reached the shores of a small island just off the coast – and stopped. The people who lived there stood in his way and held back the darkness until others saw their light and came to help. The madman raged, but he could not stand against the combined forces of men and women working together from around the world to cast him down and free the land. And when they had done so, they rejoiced together because the curse had been broken.

The story of VE Day isn’t about the war as a whole. It isn’t about who was right or wrong or when things should – or shouldn’t – have been done. The story of VE Day is about a man who sent his evil out into the world, and it’s about the courage and stubbornness and grim faith of the ordinary, everyday people who held him back and eventually took him down, freeing the millions of captives both caged and safe at home. It’s a day when heroic language and fairy tale tropes can – and should – be used as much as possible to tell the story of what was done all those years ago, because – as the Anglo-Saxons knew – the words we choose have power to strengthen us for the future. And sometimes the greatest spells we can use are those that come from our own history.

Our world changes so quickly that very little will survive from one generation to the next, but stories like this can last forever as long as we continue to tell them to those who come after us. They will last if we keep them alive to remind our children that they don’t have to sit passively by and lament the curses that ravage us. They will remind us that sometimes all it takes to stop the madness is one line of people who will not give up or surrender.

That the bombs may fall, the tanks may roll on, the night may seem to last forever – but we broke the curse once and we will do it again, as many times as needed to defeat the dragon and bring back the light.

Today is VE Day, and the news this week reminds me that we still have a long way to go. The curse Hitler tried to use on a global scale nearly one hundred years ago still survives today in the hearts of too many – of people who will shoot at or knife a man merely for the color of his skin, or deny medical help if the person who needs it can’t make them wealthy, or insult and tear down a friend or brother over something as silly as politics. The curse has deep roots and the cure sometimes seems impossible.

But it only seems that way. Today is proof, if we will remember it.

So celebrate this day when Hitler was defeated. Tell the stories to your children and to their children – and to your friends and neighbors and anyone who will listen. The curse is out there, but it can be broken. The dragon exists, but we’ve defeated him before and we will do it again. Why, just look at what our grandparents did in the face of bombs and spies and an army that seemed unbeatable! Look at how people were rescued – sometimes one at a time and sometimes by the thousands, by armies and by individuals.

Look at what we can do when we remember that we are meant to be for each other.

Today is VE Day, and even if you don’t remember for yourself how the bombs fell or the children were sent away or the men went off to fight, I hope you celebrate the end of the curse anyway and remind each other that the light does win in the end – as long as there are men and women (like you and me) who will stand for it.

Was It A Morning Like This?

I woke up this morning, put on my brightest dress, reheated yesterday’s leftover coffee, and then stood at the window and watched the snow fall outside.

Today was Easter Sunday – and it was snowing.

I felt like I should be upset about it. Easter, after all, is when we as a culture celebrate spring and life and all that is the opposite of snow and cold.

I wanted to be upset – but I watched flakes drift lazily down to settle on the green grass of the neighbor’s lawn and couldn’t help thinking that maybe the pure white snow today was meant as a moment of grace.

Ask most former preachers’ kids to name the song that most represents Easter to them and I’m willing to bet nine out of ten of them will say something like Christ the Lord is Risen Today. But me? I’ll point to a lesser known, early ’90s pop song that asks, “Was it a morning like this? … Did the grass sing? Did the earth rejoice to see Him again?” Year after year, I return to it as a reminder that today is a day of rejoicing – that if we don’t, the earth itself will celebrate.

But this year – this year, I stared out the window with coffee in hand and watched the snow falling in April – and I wondered.

Was it a morning like this?

The BBC reported earlier this week that they’re doing mass burials in New York City. People are dying of this plague in such high numbers that the morgues can’t hold them anymore, so the island that takes all unclaimed bodies is now being lined with as many new graves per day as used to be added per week. The phrases have been echoing in my ears ever since, echoing with a faint trace of the horror of the mass extermination pits in the Third Reich or the discoveries of unmarked bones from another plague – discoveries that still sometimes happen in London.

Was it a morning like this?

When he walked out of that tomb, no one was waiting to greet him. His people were cowering behind locked doors, frightened of what might happen if they walked upon the city streets. Even the women who were the first to see him alive again had only come to finish the burial – to seal him away properly according to custom. No one lined the garden paths with palm branches or songs of praise in recognition that the foundations of our world had just shifted. No one rang the bells of the city or shouted from the rooftops that the king had returned and all was well. Those who cared were in hiding – afraid that the shadow of his death would fall across them by association (and unaware that it was exactly what they needed).

Was it a morning like this?

Easter is when we who believe celebrate the resurrection of one man, but I stood at the window this morning, watching snow cover the ground and thinking about mass graves in New York – and remembering that Jesus wasn’t the only one raised and restored that day.

The curtain secluding the Holiest Place in the Temple was split apart from top to bottom; and the earth shook, and rocks broke, and tombs opened, and many godly men and women who had died came back to life again. After Jesus’s resurrection, they left the cemetery and went into Jerusalem, and appeared to many people there. (Matthew 27:51-53)

It’s one thing to say that we celebrate the coming back to life of a man who lived two thousand years ago, but it’s quite another to say that when he died, death lost its hold on the rest of us – and not in some vague philosophical way but in a literal emptying of graves within the city. When the shadow of that man’s death fell across Jerusalem, the grave could no longer hang on to anyone who called him Lord. And when he said, “Enough!” and came back to life and to this world, his people came with him.

So – was it a morning like this?

I finished my coffee (and got a fresh cup) and we crowded around the bathroom sink to press pink and green and blue chalk into our hair (because these two thirty-something women decided our Quarantine Hair© should match our dresses). We dug out winter coats and thick leggings and waterproof boots, packed mittens and Lysol wipes and a bowl full of sanitized plastic eggs filled with candy, and walked out into the thickly-falling snow to deliver Easter cheer to our friends.

We couldn’t deliver to everyone on our list because we only had addresses for some, but for four hours we drove from the top to the bottom of this city through near-blizzard conditions, stopping to hide eggs around front doors and then send quick texts to say how many had been left for them to find. We drove through neighborhoods neither of us had seen in years – drove through snow that felt like Narnia on the night Lucy met Mr. Tumnus – drove across the Mississippi by downtown Minneapolis and then again on the other side of downtown St. Paul. At times the snow fell so heavily that only the GPS kept us from getting hopelessly lost – and our phones lit up with happy messages from friends who were thrilled to hunt unexpected eggs in the cold.

We’d been driving for nearly three hours when we laughed about being Easter bunnies and also Santa – and I sat up straight in excitement. “It’s like Rise of the Guardians! They only have one night to do all these things, and Santa helps to make Easter happen because Easter brings hope back to the world!”

My housemate had never seen that particular animated film, but she also laughed and agreed that we were kind of like guardians, delivering Easter eggs that brought smiles – and maybe a little bit of hope. And we both said that this – this holiday in the midst of quarantine and isolation and an April blizzard – might have been one of the best Easters we’ve ever had.

So was it a morning like this?

I don’t know if it snowed in Jerusalem on the morning that Mary met Jesus alive and well outside of his tomb. I don’t know if illnesses were sweeping through the city like a plague, leaving people frightened and homebound and without the securities they were used to having. And I somehow doubt that candy-filled eggs were distributed to kids that year.

So – perhaps the answer is no. It was not a morning like this one.

But I think back to that moment earlier today when the swirl of fluffy flakes felt like a form of grace. And I think about how we never expect a blizzard on Easter or mass burials in New York City – or the Spanish Inquisition.

Or for a man to breathe again after three days of death. (And then bring others back as well.)

Or that a day spent delivering candy and eggs to homes across the city could turn out to be exactly what we needed for Easter this year – made especially so because of and not in spite of the snow.

So then, was it a morning like this?


Calling Friday Good

Today doesn’t feel Good.

It’s Friday – Good Friday – the day when the church remembers what had to happen two thousand years ago to get to the empty tomb on Sunday. The day when we’re asked to sit with the weight of death and hold grief in our open hands.

Someone said earlier this week that we need to lift pandemic restrictions and return to normal life – and I thought, “…but this is normal life now.”

There’s a movie starring Ashton Kutcher in which he spends the first half of the story detailing his life plan to everyone who will listen. He has it all laid out – and then it topples. The job he thought would make him rich disappears and the woman he thought would be his perfect wife leaves. He’s left sitting on a (probably dirty) L.A. beach with his brother, staring out at the endless waves and talking about how his life got interrupted.

And his brother looks at him and says, “This is your life. Right now. It doesn’t wait for you to get back on your feet.”

I still remember feeling that line like a punch in the gut the first time I heard it. It was an (at the time) unwelcome reminder that my life is not a straight path with annoying interruptions now and then. My life is the interruptions. It’s a path of curves and corners in directions I could never have guessed when I started out.

This is normal life. Right now. Inside of our homes and off of our empty streets. It doesn’t look like the life we’re used to but – as with all seasons – it isn’t an interruption.

Our world has gone into a period of hiding – of hibernation – of death. This year, we know how it would have felt to live in that time between Friday and Sunday two thousand years ago. We know how it would have felt to watch our dreams for the future and our purpose die with no hope of restoration. And in our rush to return to what we call normalcy, it can be easy to forget that Sunday wasn’t expected the first time – that those men and women in Jerusalem buried life as they knew it and sealed it away behind Roman guards – to forget that they lost their life plans and had no idea how to pivot or recover their losses.

We forget that they weren’t millionaire entrepreneurs or superstar businessmen with MBA degrees on their office walls.

There was a fisherman with a temper.

There was a corrupt government official.

There was a dreamer with his head in the clouds.

And a best friend.

And a brother.

And there were women for whom “normal” life meant disease, darkness, and isolation.

This year – more than any other in recent history – we sit with those wounded and weary disciples within locked rooms in cities we’re afraid to wander, and we don’t know what we’re waiting for. We’ve lost jobs, lost goals, lost our plans for the spring and summer, and even lost some of our freedom – and we don’t know if a Sunday is coming for us or what it will look like when it does.

Today is Friday and we hunker down in the dust of how we used to live, trying to make some sense out of life now, and we wonder how the world will be changed when this season ends. We know that on Sunday we will rejoice that the graveyards were empty and that death does not win–

–But today is still Friday.

Yes, Sunday is coming. And yes, those of us following the man who washed the feet of his friends, offered mercy to his oppressors, and welcomed the ones his society ignored – we know that this man turned the world inside out and upside down like it was his job. (Because it was.) And we know that he never does things the same way twice.

And yet – our lives are still interrupted, still stuck in a cycle of Lenten deprivation beyond anything we may have known – still stuck in the Saturday between crucifixion and resurrection and the wanting to return to what we had before.

That movie-brother on a beach said that this is our life, right now, even if it isn’t what we expected it to be – and maybe part of the Goodness we need to remember on this particular Friday in this particular year is that he spoke truth: This is our life – and life always moves forward.

Forward into whatever comes.

Forward into the next adventure Aslan sends to us.

Forward with the reminder that life started over again when Sunday came all those years ago and that those disciples in Jerusalem did get their lives and futures back – but not the same ones that they lost on Friday.

Because the man who died on Friday never does things the same way twice.

It’s a crazy kind of hope – but then, aren’t they all?

A Time to Feast

Happy Thanksgiving to my friends in the U.S. and Happy Thursday to my friends abroad. Wherever you are and whoever you are with, I hope you find a reason to celebrate something today!

I have two short “gifts” for you today.

  1. Did you know that I’ve published an ebook of daily Advent readings? They start on Sunday (December 1), so don’t wait too long to get it!
  2. In honor of the feasting that we as a culture are about to move into — today and for the next month — I’d like to share a liturgy for feasting, copied from one of my all-time favorite theological cookbooks (it’s a thing.) by Robert Farrar Capon. (Read with your tongue partially in your cheek–he isn’t actually suggesting we shouldn’t “watch what we eat” or that we should discard all care for nutrition for the next month! 😉)

“Let us fast, then–whenever we see fit, and as strenuously as we should. But having gotten that exercise out of the way, let us eat. Festally, first of all, for life without occasions is not worth living. But ferially, too, for life is so much more than occasions, and its grand ordinariness must never go unsavored. But both ways let us eat with a glad good will, and with a conscience formed by considerations of excellence, not by fear of Ghosts. If this book has any culinary point to make, it is that the ferial cuisine must once more be exalted among us. . . . Herewith, therefore, a little prayer for the return of sanity to our tables.”

Leader: The poor shall eat and be satisfied.

All: They that seek after the Lord shall praise him; your heart shall live forever.

“O Lord, refresh our sensibilities. Give us this day our daily taste. Restore to us soups that spoons will not sink in, and sauces which are never the same twice. Raise up among us stews with more gravy than we have bread to blot it with, and casseroles that put starch and substance in our limp modernity. Take away our fear of fat, and make us glad of the oil which ran upon Aaron’s beard. Give us pasta with a hundred fillings, and rice in a thousand variations. Above all, give us grace to live as true men–to fast till we come to a refreshed sense of what we have and then to dine gratefully on all that comes to hand. Drive far from us, O Most Bountiful, all creatures of air and darkness; cast out the demons that possess us; deliver us from the fear of calories and the bondage of nutrition; and set us free once more in our own land, where we shall serve thee as thou hast blessed us–with the dew of heaven, the fatness of the earth, and plenty of corn and wine. Amen.”

Robert Farrar Capon, “The Supper of the Lamb”

The Man in the Moon

Today is the anniversary of my dad’s birth–the first one since marking another anniversary last spring and realizing that I’ve now spent more of my life without him than with him. This essay is for him and for anyone who knew the same things about him.

I glance up at the waxing moon shining out of an indigo sky. Framed through the window above the sofa, it gleams with that special clarity that always makes me blink as though my glasses are smudged, distrustful at how sharply I can see something so far away. Distracted from the television, I stare at it and hear words in my head–my father’s voice speaking long ago on a clear midwestern night: “The Man in the Moon is really clear tonight.”

I don’t actually know if he ever said those specific words to me, but I do know that he stared at the night sky and dreamed of the stars. He was the one who usually suggested driving out into the hills around town to see what we could see away from man-made lights, and he was the one who took us to watch that Milky Way-themed IMAX film when I was small and scared of weird things in the sky that I didn’t understand. I still remember his fascination with telescopes whenever he got the chance to use them, and I know that he explained the concept of the Man in the Moon to me at least once (and probably more).

Maybe my dad’s love of the night sky was part of the reason he picked up those first Star Wars novels in the public library and then shared them with my brothers and me when we were barely old enough to read them. I didn’t talk about it with him back then, but as an adult, I’ve sometimes wondered if he started reading them partly because Timothy Zahn loved the idea of Space just as much as the aliens and intergalactic battles of the Skywalker clan. Zahn used words to paint a picture of that galaxy far, far away that reminds me of the way I see this earth today–as a place in and of itself, but also as a long canvas filled with sparkling peepholes into other worlds, lives, cultures, and histories–and I think my dad saw the world in a similar way.

I also think that Space and the night sky are part of what drew my dad to Calvin & Hobbes. Six-year-old Calvin regularly contemplates the stars on summer evenings–and often flies among them in imagination as Spaceman Spiff–while spouting deep wisdom and dry humour that would have appealed to the man I knew as surely as it shaped pre-teen me. In Calvin, I often catch glimpses of what my dad might have been like as a boy–the budding philosopher and mischief-maker who used the whole world and the galaxy beyond as his playground.

Picturing my dad as a boy always reminds me of something my uncle once told me–that there was a time when my dad tried to go by Jack rather than John because that’s how his grandfather was known. My great-grandfather Jack was, by all accounts, a bigger joker than my dad. I’ve heard the story more than once of his love of telling bicyclists that their back wheel was spinning round, which–in my head–has the same energy as my dad’s beloved joke of refering to my friend as “crooked” because her last name was “Straight”.

But I don’t think it was just the jokes that drew my dad to his grandfather’s name. I recently had the chance to read letters written by Grandpa Jack seventy-odd years ago, and in reading them, I could see the same blend of humour and straightforwardness I saw in my dad, and I understood why the man I knew as Daddy would have wanted to follow in his footsteps.

Grandpa Jack was also a musician who wrote songs and wasn’t shy about playing them–even in places he wasn’t meant to be (like an unlocked Carnegie Hall in New York City)–and one of my dad’s cousins played one of them for us at a recent family reunion. He played it on a borrowed piano in the same style that all the cousins recognized as Grandpa Jack’s, and I wondered why it was so familiar. Because I never knew Grandpa Jack, but listening to Don play his song was a bit like coming home again.

It wasn’t until I was sitting in church the next morning, listening to something soft and slow played by a stranger from Baltimore, that it hit me: Don had copied Jack’s style of piano playing, and my dad had copied it, too.

Many people knew that my dad played the trumpet, but when I think of him playing music, I remember him at the piano at home, fingers bouncing up off the keys as he played in a spirited style that I could never describe but always knew as his. Even now, thinking about him at the piano brings the memories to life far more thoroughly than remembering him with his trusty trumpet. And now–knowing that he copied his piano-playing style from his grandfather–I’ve found another of those star-like peepholes into the past, sparkling in the vastness of Space and the distance of too much time.

“The Man in the Moon is really clear tonight.”

I sit on the couch, looking up at that bright slice of moon, and I remember my dad playing the piano at home, copying his grandfather’s style whether or not he knew it.

And I trace the shadows on the surface of the moon and imagine that seeing them from so far away must be a bit like seeing a memory of my dad’s–of Grandpa Jack playing his piano for his grandson all those years ago.

And then I look at the trees outside, lit up by that moon and those shadows, and I remember how my brothers play the piano now–how it sounds like our dad and also like his Grandpa Jack–and how they’ll play in that style for their sons. And maybe their sons will learn to play in that style, too.

And it’s as clear as the moon that this particular peephole into this particular past won’t end here.

“The Man in the Moon is really clear tonight.”

I know he can’t see me, but I can’t help smiling up at the Man in the Moon today–and I’d swear he smiles back.

“You’ll Love Three Forks!”

We talked about Steve Martin and Anastasia and asking for signs. About the times when you plead for a neon billboard to drop out of the sky and tell you where that next step should go – and the times when you think something is a sign but hindsight proves you wrong. And then we talked about visas for England and Canada and laughed over airport mishaps — and then the day was over and it was time to go.

Driving home under a sparkling Kentucky sky, I thought again about signs and remembered a recent moment that could have been prophetic – but maybe not because sometimes it’s hard to separate wishful thinking from divine nudge. And I turned on the radio at the exact moment someone read a Bible verse that repeated nearly word-for-word my almost-maybe-not-sure prophecy. And I had to breathe deep and slow to calm the butterflies that leaped up inside at the flicker of “but what if it’s true?”

Winding my way through the hills near the apple orchard, an oncoming pickup truck flashed his lights at me as he appeared over a ridge, and I instinctively began to slow. Here on these narrow back roads lined with stone walls and flash-flood gullies, drivers warn each other to prepare for what’s coming and I knew to expect a hazard somewhere over the hill. But what I didn’t expect was a tree-lined bend and a man in blue jeans standing in the grass at the curve and motioning for me to stop. A second man with a long gray beard and tattoos up both arms planted himself a few feet further on and repeated the command as a stream of cars began to pass me going the other way. I waited, watching them and smiling to myself at the everyday beauty of the way the drivers here work together to avoid catastrophe. When the stream of cars dried up and they waved me on, I rounded the bend and the previously-unseen truck stalled in my lane and continued on my way, confident in my faith in two strangers who could see my future better than me.

It wasn’t until I’d turned onto the main road that it hit me. I had talked and laughed and wondered about signs today – hoping for road signs that would tell me exactly where I was headed. But instead of highway markers counting down the miles to my destination or big overhead signs telling me where this road would take me, I got a few flashes of light from a passing truck and nonverbal gestures from total strangers who were positioned to see something I could not.

My grandma used to tell a story from when my dad was young. They were driving across the endless hills of Wyoming and Montana, the whole family heading west. And then the billboards started to appear: “You’ll love Three Forks!”

Over and over, these billboards popped up by the side of the road, proclaiming again and again that Three Forks was something to love. And so my grandparents decided to stop there overnight, and my dad and all his siblings waited to see what glories this Three Forks would bring.

The joke that made my grandma – and my dad – laugh so hard was that Three Forks turned out to be one of the most awkward experiences of their years of shared stories. Their motel room was not en suite and the toilet was public and located off of the lobby – the lobby where locals sat until late into the night. The bathroom was not soundproofed and the family – with eight kids and a long day in the car – kept it busy all night long.

I don’t know much about Three Forks or if that billboard campaign ultimately worked for them, but I know that it didn’t work for my dad’s family. If you had heard my grandma tell that story – barely holding back her laughter – you’d know that they do NOT love Three Forks and never will.

And I think again about signs and wanting to know exactly where I’m going. And I hear my grandma’s laugh in my deepest memories and the way she always said it – “you’ll LOOOVE Three Forks” – as if to emphasize the error of the giant billboards that had led them there. And I know that sometimes we do get neon signs that point the way home, or “Road Closed” signs to keep us from going astray, or big searching spotlights that pierce the sky and guide us in to land.

But today I watch the sun set from the safety of home, and I think about small flashes – almost undetectable in the light of day – and about strangers who told me when to move forward, even though I didn’t know why. And I think about words that maybe-sort-of-might hint at a future I can’t see – a future I don’t even really know how to find.

I want billboards to mark my route. I want the assurance that I’m on the right path – assurance like fireworks and my name written across the sky so I know it’s definitely meant for me. I want to know what I can do now to make the right future happen. But I know that sometimes the signs are small. And sometimes the future will happen no matter what we do today. And sometimes all we can do is follow the direction of those who can see what we cannot — to sit in the car until that tattooed arm waves us on around the bend.

And so — today — maybe it’s okay to trust that signs will come when we actually need them — and until then, maybe it’s okay to trust the waiting.

Long Live The Fools

This is the moment that makes fools of us all.

It’s the moment of hope becoming real. It’s the moment of light breaking through. It’s the moment of the miracle that no one expected and no one looked for – the moment that stopped the world in its tracks and sent us off in a new and unknown direction.

It was the most glorious revolution of them all – and it makes us fools.

Because who could believe it? What sane person – capable of logical and rational thought, raised in a world where science can stop disease, create weather, and find things our eyes can’t see – could possibly believe this story and still be called wise?

Things like this don’t happen, you know. People may occasionally return to life – after five seconds, or five minutes, or maybe even fifty. Sometimes it’s the paddles that bring them back – those magic wands of science that can restart a dead heart. And sometimes it’s a kiss of life that does it, oxygen shared from the lungs of another that flips the switch connecting body to earth. And sometimes even the doctors don’t know why that person began to breathe again. But it never happens like this.

Who could believe that a body could be dead and buried, sealed away from all light and air and sound for three days, and then walk among us again as fully alive as you and me? Who could believe that THREE DAYS of death wouldn’t be enough to stop life?

I had a dream once that my dad had died. Years before we even thought of cancer, I dreamt that he flipped a tractor he’d been driving and was killed. And on the day we got home from the funeral, his ghost walked through the door.

And it was awful. It wasn’t scary or even creepy, but it was awkward and a little embarrassing. You see, his ghost didn’t know that he wasn’t real. He knew he’d died – and was a little grumpy about it – but he didn’t know there was a difference between being a ghost and being alive. So we had to pretend he was our real dad and ignore the fact that he couldn’t eat or hold things and that we could kind of see through him. And we had to decide if we would let others know his ghost was living with us or try to hide him whenever people showed up – and we had to figure out what to do when Sunday rolled around and he wanted to go to church to preach.

It was horrifying not because there was a ghost, and not even because my dream-dad was dead, but because it was so obvious – even to adolescent me – that being present wasn’t enough. In those initial dream moments after the tractor rolled, we may have wished for him to come back to us. We may have thought that it would be enough to have his ghost around – to be able to talk with him and share stories and even take walks together.

But it wasn’t. His ghost was no more than a shadow of who he’d been, and it didn’t take long for my whole family to realize it was better to bury, mourn and learn to live without him than cling to a ghost who no longer had the capability to grow in wisdom and strength – and in love.

I never mentioned the dream – especially later when the curse struck and the potions failed and the warrior fell – but I never forgot.

There’s a thing that happens sometimes after you’ve lost a loved one – after the initial shock and grief wear away. You discover that there are moments in life when you feel like you only just missed them. If you had turned a second earlier, or placed a phone call at the exact right minute, you’d have somehow broken through the barriers of time and seen them or talked with them. That – because the light was perfect and that song was playing, or because the breeze smelled of barbecue and children’s laughter drifted across the backyard fence, or because of a random moment of deja vu as you drove through an unknown neighborhood – you believe for less than a breath that they are not truly gone.

And then the flash fades and you know it was silly and you don’t even know what you would say to them now. (Except for “I love you” because that will always be true.) Because you know that they’re gone and it wouldn’t really be them you’re talking to – not them in this moment, in the world of today. They wouldn’t know the you that you are now, and it wouldn’t be the same.

I say these things not to make you sad, but because I know that death stops life.

And that’s why I know the story of this day makes fools of us all. To believe that a man could come back to life after three days without water, food, or air – that a grave could open up and let the real man back out, not a ghost who can’t eat or a shadow you can’t touch or even an undead creature like Frankenstein’s monster, but the real man with a beating heart and a stomach that growls for food and the ability to see his friends for who they are now after grief and fear have wrecked them – to believe something like that in the face of everything we know about death and life and the way things work in this world requires the most ridiculous kind of faith. The kind that looks at all the rational logic and says, “Yes, that’s true – and yet…”

Believing this story makes us foolish to those who don’t, but here’s what I know: This story is why death can never stop life again.

You’ve all seen the Matrix. You remember that final scene after Neo learned how to break the matrix and live free from the machines that controlled everything:

“I’m going to hang up this phone and then I’m going to show these people what you don’t want them to see. I’m going to show them a world without you. A world without rules and controls, without borders or boundaries. A world where anything is possible.”

It sounds foolish to those who don’t believe that such a world exists – who don’t even believe they’re trapped – but that doesn’t make it less true.

Once the matrix was broken, it could be brought down. Once Voldemort’s spells no longer worked, he could be defeated. Once Luke’s shot hit the exhaust port, we all knew the Death Star would fail.

And once that heart began to beat again – even before the stone rolled away and the man stepped out – death lost its power to stop life.

We still live in the matrix now. The story is not complete, and death is not yet gone. But that man – not a ghost like my dream-dad and not a blip in the space-time continuum, but a real living, breathing man – came back to life and showed us that we live in a world we weren’t supposed to see. A world where life is forever and anything is possible. A world in which the curse will someday break for good and happy endings will come true. A world in which the greatest hope is also the most foolish one.

Hallelujah and amen.