On December 31, 1977 I sat fidgeting with the buttons on my flannel shirt in The Red-Headed-Wildflower’s parent’s living room. I was nervous because I hadn’t seen her since I dropped out of high school and joined the Navy in ’74. Making the two hour drive out of the snowy mountains, I had dropped by hoping she would be home. She had sent me a Christmas card. I hoped by some crazy magic we could reconnect. We had once “dated” but after breaking up remained close friends. We once had faith in common.
She was beautiful. Her red hair framed her innocent, inviting face, her gentle smile. Peace pooled in her green eyes. I envied that peace. She told me about her new friends at Colorado State University. How she was walking with Jesus again. She planned to become a social worker and help troubled kids.
I stammered around.
I had a gram of cocain stashed in my jeans pocket for New Year’s Eve enhancement. My life was a sham. My hope was gone!
I had failed to fulfill my obligation to serve in the Navy Reserve after active duty. The Navy was looking for me. I had hid in the mountains living in a sheep herder’s wagon and then a tent, broke, confused, and not walking with Jesus. I had finally landed a job at Climax Molybdenum Mine in Leadville by lying on the application.
But I told The Redheaded-Wildflower none of that.
“How’s your walk with the Lord?” she asked with sweet boldness. I had introduced her to both drugs and Jesus. I was glad it was Jesus who she stuck with. Her question pinned me to my chair.
“It’s getting better,” I lied. But it wasn’t a bold-faced lie. It was a shame-faced lie. God had been pestering me. At every turn the verse from Matthew 6:33 haunted me: “But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.” In the King James no less. Translated in my heart that verse said, “Walk with Me again. I’ll show you the way.”
In that moment I recognized the freedom I believed I had living in the Rockies, answering to no one, and defining my own reality was as starkly lonely as Mount Massive standing to the west of my one-room Leadville cabin.
That day The Redheaded-Wildflower’s quiet, honest, skewering question was God speaking to me through her. After a night-long wrestling match between God and me and my gram of cocain, on January 1, 1978 I started “walking with the Lord” again.
Fast Forward Forty Years
God nudged me with that memory on December 31, 2020 as The Redheaded-Wildflower and I sipped New Year’s Malbec and processed this contaminated, quarantined year.
A year in which death and fear have raced to see which could claim more victims. In which the most advanced thinkers and leaders have been stymied. Polarized political pain has pervaded our lives. And insanity poured from the Oval Office.
It’s been personal too. My oldest sister passed away—not from COVID but because of the isolation and fear from it. On-line worship and fellowship and meetings have sometimes left a larger hole than they have promised to fill. I desperately miss handshakes and hugs!
I’ve heard many people declare 2020 the worst year ever. And it has been a long slog. Can anything good come from 2020?
But as I mulled the years between 1977 and now, several other difficult years raised their hands saying, “Remember me?”
A Reverie on Redemption
Once again I recognized, given my tragectory, I could have missed 2020 altogether. How does one get from who I was in 1977 to who I am now? I have so many friends and family who drove off into the ditch. And never climbed out.
Not that God isn’t still doing major redesigns on me. And The Redheaded-Wildflower too. And there have been painful, desperate seasons even “walking with the Lord.”
But God has been there.
That’s what I noticed in my reverie. Not only the impossible days, weeks, months, and sometimes years. But I saw God’s shadow. Day by day, step by step. As with Cleopas and his friend walking back along the dejected, impossible eight miles from Jerusalem to Emmaus, having just witnessed Jesus crucified, and suddenly Jesus is walking with them, comforting them (though they don’t recognize him yet), I too have had God’s often unrecognized presence with me in my grief and sorrow.
It’s not just that Jesus walks with us. It’s that he speaks truth as we walk along. He interprets our stories based on his redemptive reality. Cleopas believed the story that Jesus was dead and all hope lost until “[Jesus] explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself.” That’s when their hearts caught fire. Hope in the darkest moment rekindled!
Whatever happened to you in 2020 and beyond is not beyond God’s touch. Listen to Jesus as you walk. His truth heals. His truth rekindles hope even in the darkest times.
Sometimes he appears in the guise of a fellow traveler. In 1977 God spoke through The Redheaded-Wildflower.
God Not Calendars Change Us
The rolling of the calendar from December 31 to January 1 is not what changed my life nor what brings new hope. That’s just a temporal tick of the clock. It’s not resolutions. Administrations. Jobs. Weight loss. It’s redemption. God alone speaks alchemy into our leaden lives and turns them to gold. Every day that we grab God’s hand and listen for his voice dawns new!
As I look back, I see the long trail of our lives. It has twisted, scaled, plummeted, dashed, disappeared, and snaked along precipitous cliff edges. No easy steps.
“How’d we make it?” I asked The Redheaded-Wildflower. Unwilling to give the true but easy answer of “walking with Jesus,” The Redheaded-Wildflower shrugged, smiled, and sipped more wine.