Take Care (3)

My favorite sign-off for emails is “Take Care.” It’s pretty informal, but it conveys feelings of affection without inadvertently weirding out the recipient.

When I was in college, I encountered people who signed off emails with “Best,” which I found new and strange.

“Best what?” I wondered. Best wishes, best of luck, best punch to the throat? “Best” leaves things too open ended for my taste.

My favorite professor, however, signed off messages with “Warm Wishes,” which I thought was nice. I’ve borrowed it myself a few times, but I always go back to “Take Care.” Sometimes I end phone calls with it—and I mean it. I do care about the person on the other end and his or her “wild and precious life.”

“Take care” was one of Jesus’ last words from the cross, in a way.

“When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to his mother, “Woman, here is your son.” Then he said to the disciple, “Here is your mother.” And from that time on, this disciple took her into his home” (John 19:26-27).

Jesus cared deeply for his mom and for John, but he wouldn’t be around to care for them much longer. So he asked them to take care of each other.

John, take care of my mom. Mom, take care of John. Please take care of each other when I’m gone. Take care.

When Caroline was born, I experienced the privilege of actually taking care of someone. I’d really only been responsible for myself up until then, but with her I first understood caretaking as an honor—as well as (or maybe in spite of) being hard work.

Phil still teases me about the time she asked me to cut up her pancakes and I said, “It would be my privilege to cut up your pancakes.” Over the top? Yes. But sometimes I have to remind myself.

I’m convinced that “take care” is the seed—the beginning—of love. Taking care, caring about others, caring for others’ needs—that’s how the sheep get fed.

Jesus asked Peter a third time, “Do you love me?” and he replied, “Lord, you know everything; you know I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep.” (John 21:17).

This is the third post in a multi-post series for Lent. Find the first one here. Thanks for reading. -Em : )

sheep

Photo courtesy of Jill Biehl, photographer and farmer extraordinaire.

Special to Me (2)

Just often enough to exasperate Caroline, I ask her, “Did you know you’re special to me?” As the words are leaving my mouth, I feel just like Mr. Rogers.

She’ll say, “Yes,” and I’ll gasp and say, “Who told you?!”

This bit of mommy-and-me theater played better when she was little. Nowadays, she pretty much knows that she’s special to me.

“You, Mom. You literally just told me.” (She recently caught the fever for “literally.”)

It’s no secret that Caroline is special to me. She’s our one and only, the child we prayed for, the daughter I never could have imagined. Personally, I think she’s pretty special, but I want her to know she’s special to me. In this superficial world of social media stars and kid celebrities with giant hair bows, I want to teach her it’s far better to be special to someone.

Every week, depending on the whims of the fickle public, people go from somebody special to nobody special and back again. Better to have one close friend than a zillion “likes.”

To some folks Jesus was nobody special when they crucified him. He was the man in the middle, hanging between two other criminals paying the ultimate price for offending the Romans. But he was special to his mother Mary. He was special to his best bud John. He was very special to a handful of people. Still, the special place he held in others’ hearts couldn’t shield him from being injured and insulted like a common nobody.

Of the two nobodies to his left and right, one of them joined in with the crowd’s taunts. But then the other nobody came to Jesus’ defense, asking, have you no shame?

“Jesus,” he then turned and said, “remember me when your kingdom comes.” And Jesus said he would. Because Jesus loves people. Jesus loves shoplifters and hookers and gangsters. Jesus loves thugs and nobodies, including the two crucified on either side of him. Jesus loves.

Something meaningful happened when the crook turned and asked Jesus to remember him. He became special to Jesus. His hands were tied, but he hoped it wasn’t too late to make a plea, to remake his life. Dying and scared, of mixed-up motives and mustard-seed faith, he turned to Jesus and asked to be remembered.

Jesus couldn’t forget him.

“Can a woman forget her nursing child,
fail to pity the child of her womb?
Even these may forget,
but I won’t forget you.
Look, on my palms I’ve inscribed you . . .” -Isaiah 49:15-16

“Say make me, remake me. You are free to do it and I am free to let you because look, look. Look where your hands are. Now.” -from Toni Morrison’s Jazz

This is the second post in a multi-post series for Lent. Find the first one here. Thanks for reading. -Em : )

fred_spear_enlist

Detail of “Enlist” (1915) by Fred Spear, published by the City of Boston Committee on Public Safety after the sinking of the Lusitania.

Lord, Have Mercy (1)

Last week I went to Nashville, Tennessee for a writing conference. I’d been to Nashville only once before—on a high school field trip—so I hardly know the place. I landed in the evening, rented a car at the airport, and drove to the hotel. Easy peasy. It wasn’t until the next day, trying to follow Siri’s directions during rush hour, that I realized I can’t see.

My glasses are nearly two years old, and I do just fine driving around familiar places where I don’t have to read highway signs. However, while approaching a fork in the road in exotic Nashville, it’s hard to know which lane to take if you can’t read the numbers inside the blob. Thankfully my rental car had Georgia plates because I was driving like a true out-of-towner.

After the conference, I made the drive from Belmont University to the airport during rush-hour traffic—arriving in one piece only by the grace of God and the mercy of strangers. May God bless the driver of the white Jeep Cherokee who let me merge from the random exit-only lane in which I was trapped, not realizing it was “exit only” until I was exiting.

***

Lent is again upon us. I’ve grown to appreciate the contemplative mood of Lent and its traditions. Last year, I studied the Seven Last Words from the Cross and wrote a short piece on them for each week of Lent. This year, I’m writing in the same general vein but thinking about my seven lasting words. By seven lasting words I mean persistent words, durable sayings that bounce around in my head, phrases that I say every day to myself or to God or to others.

The first of Jesus’ Seven Last Words is, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do.” I was less magnanimous while white-knuckling it to the airport. Unlike the last words of sweet Jesus, my words were peppered with curses and pleas, the chief of which was, “Lord, have mercy.”

Straining to make out the overpass signs, squinting against the sun setting in my rear view mirror, I simply repeated, “Lord, have mercy.” And the Lord showed me mercy even as I muttered my favorite bad word. (It’s “shit.” Super versatile.)

God didn’t give me miraculous vision or send angels to carry me to the airport, but God’s mercy appeared in the gaps that opened amid bumper-to-bumper traffic so I could merge. God mercifully allowed me to miss important turns—twice—and still get to my gate in time to find a seat and work the USA Today crossword start to finish before boarding.

I learned that day what is meant by the phrase “traveling mercies.” I also made an appointment for an eye exam. Lord, continue to have mercy.

Thus, not mild, not temperate,

God’s love for the world. Vast

flood of mercy

flung on resistance.

-Denise Levertov, from “To Live in the Mercy of God” from the collection Sands from the Well

Brook Watson shark painting

Watson and the Shark (1778) by American painter John Singleton Copley. I would have titled it Lord, Have Mercy.