How to Prepare for Family & the Holidays: The Fish Principle
When I get to her door, it’s after 6:30 and dawn’s breaking rays down rows of the cornfields and I’m already late.
Mama’s got a note on her front door that reads in a black scrawl, “Welcome! Come on round. We’re out on the back deck!”
Every other Saturday we meet when dawn breaks the day open. We bring Bibles.
We are four, one Linda, who is my mama and her name means beautiful and she really is, and one Annette, one Anne, one Ann, three with one name meaning grace and the Trinity really is and I am the deep dirty Ann who has to bathe her stains long in the Grace.
Mama’s got plates of sliced oranges laid out,strawberries, raisin bread toasted. Her tea pot in its cozy. Their Bibles are all laid open. The air is cool this early, the sky quiet clear. A cardinal heralds the sun from the tip of the spruce tree at the fence. I nod embarrassed, always the last, and mama pours my tea and the steam wraps itself up and around the cool, warming fresh morning.
“John 21,” Annette winks her welcome, points to her page and I find the passage. Ah, yes, this passage — Jesus at dawn and the disciples at sea with their nets and He’s already got the fire kindled and He beckons, “Come and have breakfast.” I smile. We’re here. And it’s a feast! Mama clasps her hands, laughs.
Annette says she wants the passionate abandon for Jesus that jumps out of the boat like Peter, plunges straight into water as soon as he sees Him, and did he do it because he thought he might walk on water again?
Mama keeps returning to the three times Jesus asks “Do you truly love me?” and she says that all week she’s been working through feelings of rejection and it’s been hard and it hurts and yes, betrayal, and what does it really mean to feed Christ’s sheep today and she has to figure that if that’s the way we show we really do love HIm.
Anne, the other one with the fanciful “e” and curling hair, she’s thinking about Peter with a battered faith who says I’m outta here, I’m going fishing, and a Jesus who won’t let Him go, who wants him to build His church even when he’s betrayed Him three times and that’s a kind of love she needs right now.
Then Mama turns to me, “And for you, Ann? How is He speaking to you through this passage?” The sun’s warmer now on our faces, higher over the corn behind Mama’s house. A robin’s singing with the cardinal. I unbutton my sweater.
“Well, there’s the fact He asks us to trust him when it feels like we’ve been in a long night and caught nothing and will we hear His voice, trust him, do what He says when He asks the unconventional of us: “Throw your net on the right side of the boat”…. And there’s this: … the wild love waiting for us at the end of dark, empty nights of the soul — the kind of love that has breakfast waiting for us on the beach, the fish and bread all ready for us… but really… and this is what I keep coming back to,” I glance around anxious at their faces and I run on excited, “I keep coming back to this:
Simon Peter climbed aboard and dragged the net ashore. It was full of large fish, 153, but even with so many the net was not torn. Jesus said to them, “Come and have breakfast.” None of the disciples dared ask him, “Who are you?” They knew it was the Lord.
I look up. They look blank. I try again. “It was full of large fish — 153!” Mama nods slowly… waiting for the epiphany to strike. Annette’s smiling politely. Anne’s fingering the corner of her page, re-reading the text.
I just blurt it out: “Someone had counted the fish!”
Peter, the failure, the reject, the broken, he had counted fish.
Now they all smile, nod politely. My cheeks are hot. I distract with reaching for my cup of tea, swig back a long gulp, and sputter out something about it getting that time and maybe it’s time to close in prayer?
We go around the circle and the sun’s sure now, strong, and we each pray passionate for the woman to the right of us, for her bruises and for her dark night and for her longings and that she might be fed, her nets full to overflowing in the morning and that we would each really love Jesus. We squeeze hands with the final Amen.
And for a moment, we all sit still and silent in the sun. I close my eyes, listen to nature waking. The light feels healing. The robin keeps singing. A back door closes down the street. I can hear a car start.
“Well, you’d all better get back to families!” Mama’s gathering plates off the deck table. We carry in teacups from the back deck, wander in through her house for our shoes.
And there it is on Mama’s kitchen table. Stacks and scattered and in open books. Us three Ann’s pause on our way through. Mama sets the teapot on the counter. “Yes, forgive the piles. All week, I’ve been sorting out the years. Filing them into albums.” I scan my history — Mama’s. I hurt inside.
A child abused. A wife replaced. A mother broken.
Annette leans over, points to a black and white image of a little girl holding a doll, her mother’s hand.
“Who is this?”
“That’s me!” Mama smiles and Annette’s eyes grow big, picks it up for a closer look at time.
There are photos of Mama a toddler, her sitting on her father’s lap, a color-tinted photograph of her mother, Mama’s first Christmas with my father, his gold-band hand resting on her shoulder. There are photos of me sleeping on Dad’s chest, my first steps, my Dad holding me brand new in the heat of an August dusk. Mama looks so young.
Her whole life is laid out across the table on kodak paper.
Anne points to one a white-blonde girl with sky blue eyes playing in a cardboard box. “And this?”
Mama says her name quiet and holy, name of my younger sister who was killed before Mama’s eyes. I want to find the door, run away home. I want to pick up the photo of Aimee and me and Mama sitting on the orange flowered couch with my brother, my Dad and I want to go back and make it right, make it all hold. My parent’s marriage. My sister’s life. Us.
Mama picks up the picture for me, of us all. Holds it so I can see. Dad’s smiling. I remember when Mama had long hair like that, dark and thick and wavy, under a kerchief. When they were married and we were all together and I remember Aimee’s giggle and her alive.
“Yes… “ she traces faces… says the words more to another time than to us right here. “Now you can see why I’ve been working through rejection.” I swallow hard. When we can’t say it and we just want to run away, Jesus asks our question for us, again and again, “Do you truly love me?”
Anne nods understanding towards Mama and Mama looks across the table, asks in this wounded whisper, “What do you do with all this?” It’s her life.
We are silent.
And then it comes, and I murmur:
“You count fish?”
Mama turns to me and I reach for one of John and Aimee and I playing in the sandbox and I say it slow.
“You pull in your life and you see that though you felt ripped open —- the net actually didn’t tear. That there’s much in your net. And you actually count them. You make sure you count the fish. So you don’t have to ask because you know. You know it is the Lord.” I feel the lump in my throat ebbing.
“You count every single grace that He gave through the long dark night, and you see that there are more than 153. Far more than 153. It’s a feast!” I look up. Mama’s looking at me.
“You count fish?” She nods and she clasps her hands and laughs lovely and soft and long and she is beautiful. The epiphany strikes: “You count fish!”
Us four stand around a table picking up photos and pain from the past and we’ve lingered over Scripture so that we live it and we are disciples counting the blessings hauled in by a life.
We give to God when we give thanks.
I hold one picture long.
And I count it twice.
A repost from the archives
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