Tuesday, August 26, 2014

A Love Story

Everyone loves a good love story and Jose and Meri had just that.  Meri was a beautiful young woman from the wrong side of the tracks.  Her momma had been married and divorced six or seven times depending on if you counted  the time she was only married  for a week.  Jose saw Meri the first time at the Jack in the Box. She got a job there as a cashier because the manager Bart was partial to young attractive female employees even though his personality made most women queasy.   Meri was vivacious, flirty and talkative.  Jose was a good looking slim Hispanic man who was trying to work his way through college.  He was smart and hardworking.  He had a good future.  Then he met Meri.

 His friends tried to discourage him but Jose was totally smitten.  He asked Meri out on a date.  She reluctantly agreed to meet him at Applebee's for lunch.  Jose was so nervous and excited.  He dressed carefully and showed up twenty minutes early.  Meri showed up thirty minutes late looking like she had overslept.  She ate quickly in between texting and answering phone calls from someone named PJ.  The lunch date was over in less than forty minutes.  Most guys would have gotten the message.  Not Jose, he totally persisted in trying to win Meri's heart.

 Meri's  mom moved in with Gus a guy she met on the bus going to her job at a debt collection agency and that bit of news Meri left without a home.  She stayed with her friend Lindy until her boyfriend got back from his construction job down in Florida.  She had more troubles when that little strip on the test showed positve.  PJ had knocked her up and when she told him they had a terrible fight. A couple of days later she heard from PJ's buddy that he had moved to the beach to live with a stripper.

 Meri, was contemplating all kinds of dark thoughts when she looked up at the register to find Jose and his dark eyes beaming at her.  He took her out to eat after her shift. He opened the car door for her and held her arm as they crossed the street to go to Panera Bread.  She was hurt and confused by the rejection that just seemed a part of her life and just a little unnerved and flattered by the "knight in  shining armor" guy that was sitting across the table.  He found her a place to stay with his cousin and showed up every evening to take her out to dinner.  By the end of the fourth week, he gave her a small box with a chip diamond ring and got down on one knee and asked if she would marry him.  Meri said yes not because she loved Jose but because she didn't have anywhere to turn to for help. She knew that Jose's cousin was getting ready to move back to Atlanta. It was family tradition, her mom married at least three of her husbands when the threat of eviction was hanging over them.

They were married by a justice of the peace that weekend.  She wore a white sequined party dress that she often wore when she went out dancing.  Jose was an attentive husband even though he worked long hours and went to school. She didn't understand Jose.  He was sweet but not exciting.   Meri, was bored.  She had no interest in keeping house and less interest in Jose.  Jose was happier than he had ever been.  When Meri announced she was pregnant, Jose was ecstatic. His cousin and his mom were suspicious.  She had lost her job when her mid section started expanding and Bart wanted to hire the bleached blonde chain smoking girl that sat on the balcony in her bikini next door to him. Meri sat around watching day time television and trying to hang with the loser friends she had left.  PJ would text her occasionally and it would make her crazy but still give her hope that he would drive back and get her.  Then life would be perfect.  She never really figured Jose into the equation.

The baby was born prematurely which really raised the eyebrows of Jose's hardworking Catholic family.  It was a little boy.  Jose insisted that his named should be Mario.  Meri had a fit.  "Why should you name the baby?"  She almost said that he had nothing to do with it.  She caught herself.  Jose's mom and sister often took the baby after they saw the way Meri neglected tending to him.  Jose was still blinded by his love for Meri.   He made excuses and he really was terribly busy.  He grocery shopped, cleaned house, worked, and went to school. He just did what needed to be done without really questioning.

Meri took one look at her flabby post pregnancy tummy and she begun to diet and exercise.  She meet Nate out on the track one spring afternoon.  It wasn't long before he began inviting her back to his place.  She was pregnant again with Nate's child.  She paid a little attention to Jose just to cover for the little pregnancy issue. Jose finally thought his wife now loved him.  In a few weeks Meri announced she was pregnant.  More family eye rolling and gossip followed especially since Jose's uncle who had multiple contracts for apartment maintenance saw Meri walking arm in arm with Nate going into his apartment on Clover Street. Nate faded out of the picture when he realized that Meri was carrying his child.

Jose worked even harder.  He graduated with honors and soon had a job as a computer tech.  His salary was just enough to keep them afloat.  Meri had baby number two, a sweet little blonde headed girl.  Jose's dad commented on how no one in the family was blonde trying to get Jose's attention.  It didn't work.  By now Mario and Marie stayed with Jose's mom every day and Jose would pick them up and bathe them when he got home.  Meri paid little attention to anyone but herself.  She demanded money to have her hair colored and for new clothes.  Jose gave her what he could.  He couldn't understand her lack of affection for the children but he more than made up for it.  They were his light and joy.  He was tired from all his responsibilities but still persisted in  futile attempts to make Meri happy.

Jose friends tried to talk to him about Meri.  He defended her, but he already knew that Meri didn't love him and had never loved him.  For whatever reason he looked into her eyes and saw the person that he knew she could be.  His family had pretty much told him that Meri was an adulteress.  He knew she had been unfaithful.  He heard the phone conversations and had read her texts to numerous men.  And now she was pregnant again. There was no possible way that it was his.  Soon after this little boy was born Meri left.  His mom and sister were angry with Meri. Angry that Jose had three children to support, but their hearts were big and they loved the children in spite of Meri.

Several years went by and Mario was in second grade.  On the way to PTA Jose stopped to get gas at the QT and caught a glimpse of Meri  hanging onto the arm of some guy that had to be twenty years older than she was.  He heard stories several years later that she had a pimp now and that the cops had busted her for prostitution.  No one understood but Jose was heartbroken over Meri.  His family tried to get him to divorce her for abandonment, but he just never would talk about it.  The kids were growing up without their mom. None of them remembered her although Mario would claim that he did.  Jose bought a small house in an older neighborhood and attended a local church.  Life was hard as a single dad but he took things in stride.  His family had only disgust for Meri.  They tried to match make Jose with several nice Hispanic women.  He was always polite but adamant.  He was still married.

Mario was in middle school, Marie was in the third grade and little Francisco was in first grade.  Things had settled into a routine. Jose had gotten a promotion at work and there was an opportunity for him to relocate in Charlotte.  His family hated the idea of them moving but maybe it would be good for all of them to have a fresh start where no one knew about Meri.

One of Jose's last responsibilities for his job before relocating to  Charlotte was to deliver some papers for a client that was on the other side of town.  He cut through a bad section of town to save some time and as he cruised a long he saw a woman on the side of the road.  She was homeless, pushing a shopping cart, dirty, dazed and almost starved to death.  In an instant Jose pulled the car over.  It was Meri.  He gently  took her arm and led her to his car. He took her to a hotel to clean her up and brought food from a local restaurant.  Every day he went to care for her needs.  It was days before she was aware enough to know who Jose was. He went shopping for new clothes and took her to have her hair cut. In her desperate situation where she knew she was totally helpless, Jose showed up and rescued her.  This time she did love him.  Not with the passion of a young woman, but deeply for his acceptance, gentleness and care. When she was no longer young, desirable or beautiful Jose loved her with a genuineness that melted away the years of self centered love that she had learned from her mom.  Eventually, he brought her home to see her kids.  It took years to integrate Meri back into the family.  By the time the kids graduated from high school they called her mom and did have affection for her.  Jose beamed each time he introduced his wife who now had remarkable humility and sweetness.

If Jose had been my brother or my son or my friend, I would have totally been against his showing any mercy to  Meri. In and of myself I am not all that kind, forgiving or understanding.  But maybe some of you have caught on that this story is totally made up.  I am not sure any of us would have had the ability to respond the same way Jose did to Meri in the story.  But in another way the story isn't made up.  Hosea is an Old Testament book that tells the true story of Hosea and his wife Gomer. Unfaithful  Gomer became a prostitute and a slave.  Hosea bought her back and took her home to be his wife.  

But the story is real in another way.  This is the story of all of us.  We have a Father who is our Creator.  He has loved us from the beginning, but time after time we have been a Meri or a Gomer.  We have rejected God's care and love for us and just flat out rejected God not wanting to have anything to do with Him.  So our Father God came and found us when we were dirty, unloved,  and messed up.  He sent His one and only Son who He loved and treasured to buy us back by dying on a cross in our place and taking the death penalty for our sin.  So Jesus died in our place and made a way for God to restore the broken relationship.  For all of those who have ears to hear, God makes an offer.  It is come to Me, take my yoke, you will find rest for your souls.

Never doubt the love that God has for each of us.  He demonstrated it at the cross.  "For while we were helpless, at the right time, Christ died for the ungodly."  

Monday, August 18, 2014

Memories, Chickens and Hope

When I left home over thirty years ago, I couldn't wait to live my life the way I wanted.  Home represented everything that I really didn't think I wanted to be.  Now that both of my parents have passed away and the home place has a for sale sign hanging in the front yard by the black walnut tree where we used to play soccer, badminton, and red rover I oddly find myself trying to recreate things from my childhood.  The pictures from the past are precious and the memories are so real that the very sights, sounds and emotions still reverberate in my heart.

Oddly enough chickens are one of my memories.  We had laying hens and Daddy bought biddies every year at the FCX.  He had an egg route where I tagged along with him to deliver fresh eggs to the folks living in the fancy gingerbread trim houses in town.  Chickens were just a part of life.  Grandma used a hatchet on a stump to make the start of the fried chicken meal.  Fried eggs for breakfast and feather pillows were just an accepted part of country living.

I have investigated owning chickens for many years and even mentioned it to my neighbor across the road who has a mixed lot of  Plymouth Rock and Road Island Reds girls and 2 roosters.  A couple of days ago my husband and I were headed down the road walking our dog, Maggie.  My neighbor stopped his Mini Cooper beside us to let us know that he was going to have surgery the next morning on his upper back.  In the course of the conversation he offered to give us his chickens.  He is tired of the whole business.  I understand that his multiple health issues have interfered. We were non committal but decided that we would feed his flock and gather the eggs while we considered the prospect of becoming owners of live stock.

The next evening I grabbed a maroon basket from my kitchen excited with the prospect of gathering eggs like I did as a little girl and to check out the flock that might become mine.  While my husband got the chicken feed, I pulled the hose over to give the girls some fresh water.  My memories and my neighbor's chicken management were in conflict.  My dad had nest boxes up on the wall in a part of his barn with a fenced yard that his girls could scratch and look for worms and insects.  My neighbor has a fenced 10 by 10 area with two dog houses for nesting boxes. We have had torrential rains in the last week so every thing was ripe and slick.  The stench was overpowering.  I had to crawl into the back of the fenced area and stick my hand into the back of the igloo dog houses to recover manure covered eggs. I was wearing shorts and sandals. In order to get into the igloo, I had to get on my hands and knees.  I crawled out with a clutch of manure covered eggs. By the time I cleaned the eggs, I was over my chicken ownership dreams.  I spent a restless night thinking about the chickens, their poor environment and those eggs.

Reality has a funny way of interfering with our rose colored memories or in my case rose colored chickens. So maybe these chickens are teaching me that it's really not possible or desirable to go back in time.   That is the sweet part of the past.  It is past!!!!  We can learn from the past,  but it doesn't have to define who we are today or control the future.  For some the past was the best part of our lives, but trying to hold onto it is like trying to partake of old  manna. Stale food can't give us the nourishment that we need right now. Some of us want to totally forget the past because of the pain inflicted on us by the circumstances we have lived through.  Most of us just have a mixed lot of good and bad memories, but  if we choose to view the past through the lens of God's sovereign work in our lives and place our faith in His character then hope will characterize our present experiences. I better put my boots on, I think it about time to go gather those eggs again.