The Light We Need to See Everyone In
Been praying this week for Amber and Seth Haines and their little Titus. I’ve been memorizing Sermon on the Mount, all of Matthew 5-7, with these earnest folks (and a whole community of memorizers!), and God’s got us on a journey. Seth, a lawyer, a mighty fine writer, good husband and praying father to four future men — he guest posts here with a few needful words in these part this morning:
It was a warm west-Tennessee day.
The humidity beaded on my brow, so I pulled the ball cap from my head and wiped away the sweat. There was a row of green pole beans laced with purple striations. I was in Stratham’s field.
“Which ones do I pick, Strat?”
Stratham held his thumb and forefinger at a span of about three inches. “Ye big or so, but if you get ‘em a bit smaller I reckon it don’t matter much,” he said. “My lady likes younger beans, more tender. But the way I see it, a meatier bean is more filling.”
Strat grabbed the handle of his five-gallon bucket and started down the row behind me. Each row was thirty feet long with trellising made of six-foot iron t-posts strung with rusty double loop wire. The rows formed a sort of faux wall allowing both the allusion of privacy and the intimacy of conversation.
It was a verdant confessional booth.
Stratham and I worked in silence for a few minutes, and I felt words gathering in him like a slow southern storm in late August. Finally he broke.
“Last week Brother Smith brought the lesson at church. It was Father’s day.” Strat stopped abruptly and I could hear thrashing in the beans behind me.
“Daggum Japanese beetles!” he exclaimed as he shooed them with an old handkerchief. He continued. “Smith said that family ought to see a man less for what he is, and more for what the man wants to be. Said that’s called grace. I reckon he’s right.“
I found my own covey of Japanese Beetles mating under the shade of the rattlesnake bean leaves. I gathered two between my fingers and squished them.
“I’ve done some things that don’t make me proud,” he said flatly.
He didn’t expound, but I knew Stratham’s story. Knew there’d been things that’d shamed his wife and family. “I’ve moved on,” Stratham said, “and I hope some of folks have grace enough to see that.”
I grabbed a young bean from the vine and ate it raw. Strat continued with his bean field confessional.
“When I was young, I went to church three times a week and memorized all the right passages. I learned apologetics and the art of doctrinal debate. I went to a Christian school, married my Christian sweetheart, and started my Christian family in the church. I judged a good deal, divided doctrines mercilessly.”
Stratham sighed heavy and said, “I know I gave you a real hard time early on.”
“It’s okay, Strat,” I said. Truth was, we hadn’t talked about our doctrinal differences in years. Not since his fall from grace. Not since he was marked with the tenderness of the penitent.
I heard Strat’s knees creak as he squatted to pick the lower beans.
“Once you fall apart, things just look different, I guess. We all need folks who see the ‘could be’ or the ‘want to’ in us. We all need grace. We all need Jesus, friend of harlots. And I want to be that kind of friend, too.”
I heard the hollow thud of Strat’s bucket being set on an old cinder block, and I knew Strat had exhausted the conversation.
He’d purposed this for some time, I thought; now he’d said his piece and that was that. I heard Stratham wrestling a bit with the earth behind me, heard a root system come loose.
“Found a young vine that never made it,” he said. “Sometimes it’s hard to figure what stunts growth, but I think this one’s had its roots choked out by some gypsum weed.” I thought of the old parables, how new parables were scattered all across these bean fields.
I thought of dying seeds, the wheat and the tares, the prodigal son. I thought of Stratham, how he met Jesus at the business end of grace.
I picked a large bean and examined the purple striations down its belly. “I like the look of these beans,” I said.
“The markings give it character.”
Stratham didn’t respond, but instead muttered about them one last time under his breath.
It was a warm west-Tennessee day. I was in Stratham’s field.
And he was the harvest.