Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Running again.

But those who trust in The Lord will find new strength. They will soar high on wings like eagles. They will run and not grow weary. They will walk and not faint.  ~~ Isaiah 40:31

James Taylor Upchurch, Jr. 
May 1, 1927 - December 31, 2014

My Daddy was one of the first recreational runners in Montgomery. He loved his church, his family, Auburn football, fine art, and 60 Minutes (before they got too liberal).  Sailing gave him great joy and being on the water at Lake Martin was as close to Heaven as he ever got, when he was tangled up in his mortal frame. 

He laughed easily, remembered every act of love, and delighted in technology and spreadsheets.

He had the latest everything, and there wasn't a gadget that hit the market for which he wasn't first in line. 

He worked hard, so that when he wasn't working he could work hard at playing - which to him usually involved working in the yard or at the lake. When he could no longer do that as well, his new hobby became supervising those who could.

He was a maker of lists, whose motto (one of many, anyway) was "Plan your work, and work your plan."   He was Pap, not only to his grandchildren and great-grandchildren, but to all their friends as well. 

My daughter-in-law said to me just a couple weeks ago that when I was looking hard at something I make "the Pap Face."  It's something I realized that all four of us children do. I think it's in our DNA. 

His practical side became his most endearing personality trait. When Henry and I told my parents we intended to marry on January 5 of the following year, he advised Henry that it would be smarter to move the date up by a week, for income tax purposes, especially since, he added, "Eleanor can't cook, and I'm not sure she knows what end of a broom is supposed to meet the floor, but you can claim her as a dependent and y'all can get a refund."

We were married December 29. 

He fell in love with our Mama the first time he laid eyes on her, at age 11, at a Rotary baseball game in which both their fathers were playing. They courted in the shadow of the church in which we will celebrate his life this weekend. I don't know, really, how I feel about what exactly happens to souls when the bodies around them die, but somehow I feel certain in my bones that there was a reunion somewhere, somehow, in the dark, quiet hours between midnight and the first break of dawn that made me feel, for the first time since the day my mother died three years ago, as though order in the universe has been restored. 

Rest in peace, Daddy. 

Thursday, December 25, 2014

The Other Woman

I wrote this story for the Christmas Eve Sunday School lesson I gave to the New Directions Class at First United Methodist Church in 1997.  I thought I had lost it, but recently discovered a copy my mother had saved among her things. Christmas Gift, indeed!

You have heard the story of the shepherds and the wise men and the heralding angels, and it is good that you should know them. But have you ever heard about the other woman in the stable the night our Savior was born?

Her story has never been told. None but Mary, the Blessed Mother, was ever aware of her presence. But her story is important, dear child, because it is also the story of the perfect Christmas gift.

I was the other woman in the stable the night of our Lord's birth. My name is Rachel, and I worked for the innkeeper who could not find room to lodge the Holy Family. I first saw the sweet-faced girt and her shy, lanky husband when they came to the door asking for lodging, and my heart ached for them. It was clear to me that the girl, who was much younger than I, was very soon to have a child. I thought for a moment about giving up my own small room at the back of the inn, but because I had never in my life had any other
place to call my own I couldn't bear to give it up, even if only for a night. I was relieved when the innkeeper showed the young couple where his stable was. I'm not even sure why I felt that pang of guilt, for weren't they the ones too foolish to make arrangements for themselves? After all, the stable had been strewn with fresh hay that very morning in anticipation of traffic to the inn. It shouldn't be too cold or too uncomfortable for them there.

After a long day's work, and the busyness of attending to the unusually large crowds who had come to Bethlehem for the census, I went to my room eager for rest, and before too long I fell into a deep sleep.

I cannot tell you how long I had been sleeping, but I was startled awake by the strangest sounds I had ever heard. It was more than music, and the beauty of it drew me out of my bed. As I made my way to the window, my knees grew weak, and I was overcome with such a feeling of wonder that I began to weep tears of happiness I could not explain. 

What I saw that night in the yard of the inn in Bethlehem surprised and puzzled me. There at the entrance of the stable was a group of shepherds and townspeople, an odd assemblage given that shepherds tended to keep to their own, and even the lowest of the rest of us were more than pleased to exclude them from our company. 

I remembered the quiet couple who had taken lodging there, and so I left the inn, and made my way to the stable as quickly as I could. The crowd of people made it hard for me to get all the way in at first, but I was able to hear the soft cries of a newborn baby. I inched my way forward and saw people giving whatever small thing they had to offer to the mother, who would tenderly accept each person's gift and smile warmly before allowing them to take a peek at the child in the manger.

At last I got close enough to the little family to see the mother's haunting eyes. She was no great beauty, but she was radiant.   When at last she looked at me, I was embarrassed. I realized I was standing on holy ground, and because I had made many mistakes in my life that made me ashamed, I felt I had no right to be there. 

She nodded her head at me, as if to invite me to come closer. I was all at once sorry I had no gift to offer them, but then the young mother turned her face to mine and whispered, "My name is Mary. Please, could you bring me a cup of cool water? I am so thirsty, and the visitors who have come to see my son have kept us so busy even Joseph has been unable to fetch some for me.

I immediately left the warmth of the stable and returned to the inn. There I found a dipper and a pail of freshly drawn water. I snatched them up, afraid the innkeeper would see me and accuse me of stealing, and ran back to the barn. As I held the dipper up to her lips, Mary gently took hold of my wrist and said, "Your kindness to me tonight is your gift to my son. God will surely bless you for it."    

With that, Mary gently lifted the swaddling clothes away from the child's face. I had never seen a more beautiful baby, and in my heart of hearts I knew at once that this was the long promised Messiah. I don't know how long I gazed at her beautiful boy, but as each second passed I felt the weight of the mistakes of my past lose their stranglehold on my heart.  As I arose I knew I would never be the same, and on that very spot I vowed to live the rest of my days as a witness to the beautiful Savior. 

So now you know the story of the other woman in the stable. She was Rachel, a forgiven and changed  woman. And you also now know the secret of the perfect Christmas gift.  It is the cup of kindness, offered to one who thirsts for it.

© 1997 Eleanor Upchurch Lucas All Rights Reserved