If you are really a Cape Codder, you will never admit that the weather is good – at least without adding a disclaimer like, “What a beautiful day! But tomorrow it’s supposed to rain/snow/hail…” True to my 40 years of being what is called a “wash-a-shore” on this sand bar, I will declare that this winter was really…not bad. We had a couple of slushy snowfalls and dustings, some frigid days but hey, it is New England. However, the spring seems to be stuck in March, reluctantly edging over the 40’s, maybe popping into the 50’s on a rare occasion. This IS the Cape, where the icy Atlantic grips 100 miles of shore, stalling out the release of new life from trees and flowers that are clamped down, waiting.
Forty years ago almost to this day, a young woman left New Jersey, which had exploded in vibrant color and life, and chugged north in a rusted out Volkswagen bus. A steamer trunk with all she owned was shoved into the back with some peacock feathers thrown on top. A down sleeping bag that had been well used for several years was tossed in last minute, just in case.
She had only been to Cape Cod once, a few weeks earlier in March, and it was cold, sleeting. “Sea frost” someone called it and it sounded mystical and poetic which drew her even more. She crossed the bridge over the canal somewhere in the afternoon and drove until she could find the ocean, then parked overlooking the gray green palette of sea, dotted with whitecaps, stretching into the empty horizon and she felt like she had arrived. She took out her notebook and wrote. But she became aware of a chilling wet cold, much colder than New Jersey and beyond the shelter that the old bus and sleeping bag would provide, so she pushed on – to Wellfleet. There, kismet led her to a tiny cottage near the bay. There was no heat or hot water, but a small wood stove would warm up the little room quickly and the stove could heat up a pan of water for bathing. As the sky turned dark, the peepers rang out across the marsh. Spring is here, they said. Close, anyway. Close enough, I thought, as I pulled the dirty sleeping bag over my head.
Forty years. I am 63 now, and as I look back to that strange girl, I can hear the peepers and smell the salt mixed with pine on the breeze coming up over the marsh. I can remember how my heart needed to run, to keep looking, and the temporary peace I found next to the ocean, with the world and all of it’s confusion behind me. I don’t remember feeling cold, or dirty or worried at all – I had enough money for beer and cigarettes. I had no phone so I would rely on the mail and that was sufficient for someone who really just wanted to be left alone. Yet I craved more than I had. I craved a higher place than survival, a wider purpose – to be filled with more than anger, doubt and a prevailing sense of brokenness. Maybe it’s here, I would think, looking out over the bay. Something that could grow and thrive. I wanted to trust in Hope, but Jack Daniels was safer, easier.
Seven years later, I ran into Jesus. I’d like to say that He wrapped His arms around me and gave me a big bear hug, but that’s not at all how it went. First, I had to die. And since I was literally almost dead from doing things my way, it wasn’t a big stretch to surrender my will, my pride and my mess.
“Listen carefully: Unless a grain of wheat is buried in the ground, dead to the world, it is never any more than a grain of wheat. But if it is buried, it sprouts and reproduces itself many times over. In the same way, anyone who holds on to life just as it is destroys that life. But if you let it go, reckless in your love, you’ll have it forever, real and eternal. John 12:24-25 (MSG)
It takes some time for things to grow. At the jail every week I talk to the ladies in green or yellow jumpsuits. Sometimes I get a room full of silence. The expressions can run from bland civility to deadpan to rolling eyes, smirking or smoldering contempt. But the best part of it all is the day I see a spark – so small, you would miss it if you weren’t paying attention. It’s in the eyes and it’s called Hope. And I know once I see the spark, God can build a fire.
“The cross,” I said, “is a place that represents death and the darkest despair yet also leads the way to hope and freedom and new life.” When I asked for their thoughts, one young woman leaned back in her chair and looked up at the ceiling.
“This is really deep,” she said and a low rumble of acknowledgement went around the room. She was so right. This truth must penetrate right to the core of our soul. There it will take root, and if we are patient, something wondrous will begin to grow.
My grandson Eli discovered this first hand after I gave him a terrarium for Christmas. On the cover, you see a tropical paradise bursting from a transparent vase. What you get is a bag a dirt and a small plastic container. A four-year-old has faith to move mountains, but it’s also short-lived. After a few days, he forgot about the dirt. Then a couple of weeks later I got a Facetime call.
“Ama! ” he shouted, his little body trembling with excitement, “LOOK!”
And there it was – well, not exactly paradise, more like ordinary grass, but it was green and growing and so amazing he could barely speak. When I asked him what the secret was, he told me proudly, “A little light, a little water, and a LOT of patience!” Ah, patience!
Funny that I chose a Cape Cod April as my season to land here. I was as cold and unfriendly as the unforgiving earth. But there was promise just below the surface. I wonder…does Jesus see the small seed of Hope beneath the crusted heart? Maybe He put it there long ago, and is just waiting. Sometimes I think he calls us right to the crossroads of Nowhere-Left-To-Go and Nothing-To-Lose. Let it go – the life that is mine to begin with. Give it to me and I will breathe on it and you will really live.
I heard the peepers last week, and something in my heart leapt. The young woman I can still see in my mind is an old woman now with joints that are failing and silver strands through my hair. Someone asked me if I was in remission last week, and it took me a moment to realize she meant from cancer. “Well, I’m still here!” I answered. But I thought of another Remission – the forgiveness of my sins, the cancelled debt that was paid for in blood. As I walk through a life that flourishes with the beauty of a heavenly hope, may I never forget the cross, and the deep, unsearchable Love that gave me life, real life. And the best is yet to come.
Therefore, we who have fled to him for refuge can have great confidence as we hold to the hope that lies before us. This hope is a strong and trustworthy anchor for our souls.It leads us through the curtain into God’s inner sanctuary. Hebrews 6:18-19