how many hugs?

September 27, 2009

Bob is brilliant, intimidatingly so.  Janet is magnetic; her essence spills a disarming peace.  They love God.  They adore each other.  They look at and fall into the other like no two people I’ve ever seen.

Janet is Bob’s 3rd wife.  He left 2 marriages and 5 children in the wake of a version of himself that I never knew.  Bob is Janet’s 2nd husband.  She is dutiful, responsible, and sharp – the hard-working type you’d expect out of an eldest child raised on a farm.  For Bob, where caustic wit once was, there is now overwhelming compassion.  For Janet, obligation has been replaced by a freedom to love and give herself away.

To me, they represent trophies of grace, and were I only able to stand at a distance and watch, I could glean wisdom for a lifetime.

For some reason, they allow me access.  I have no idea why, which is a little unsettling.  I’m a master at manipulating people into loving me – but it’s never worked with them.  In the oddest of ways, at the oddest of times, they will generously open their life to me – and 10 times out of 10, I did nothing to earn it or make it happen.  It feels weird to be loved just because

I think that is grace.  And grace is disconcerting, as it should be.

They live in Wyoming.  Today they were in Florida.

I hugged Janet.  She doesn’t hug actually, she embraces.  Her tiny arms and slight frame somehow take you in.  She holds on longer than she has to.  I think she prays over people when they are in her fold.

It’s been a hard season for me.  She knows it.  I know it.  While I’d normally rely on her for advice and comfort, this time she’s rightly allowed me to weather the storm alone, with God.  Like all good mothers; she knows that this is where a lot of growing up happens – and it has.  It’s undoubtedly been rough. But in her embrace, I feel the nurture, the safety, and the warmth of a heart cheering me on, ready to bandage the wounds – so I can head back into a decisive battle.

I hugged Bob.  He laughs.  He always laughs at me.  I’m not really sure why he always laughs at me, but I guess I’m funny.  He says what he always says, “Saaaaaarah” then stands quietly, hands on hips, staring at me.  He made his name and fortune in litigation – he knows the ropes.  He knows by doing this I will tell him exponentially more about what’s on my mind than were he to ask a straight question.  And I do.  And he laughs.

With Bob, when your almost not paying attention (usually in between the laughing) he will say the most incredible things that come straight from a father’s heart.  You know by his words that he has been listening, watching, taking note, and making sense of what the real issue is.  Like many before, his words today were the boundaries I needed.  I am as capable and intelligent as I have always been; and I will find a way through this.  I don’t think he knows how many lies have been silenced because of conversations like this with him.

I would have loved to sit over blueberry pancakes on their patio and listen and talk. I would have loved to tell the full stories of how God is growing me up and showing up in ways I never knew possible.  But on this day, the busyness of our schedules and commitments gave us only a few moments – so in half-sentences and hugs – we celebrated the God in whose story we live and trust.

As I was leaving, I said good-bye and stole another hug from Janet, then from Bob, then from Janet again, and another from Bob.  Clamped safely around Bob’s ribcage, he chuckled and said, “How many hugs are we going to have?”  “As many as I need” I quipped with a grin.

Then I let go.  I told them I love them.  I got in my car and drove away.

Their hugs give me what every great embrace, what every great relationship should – an arrow pointing the way to Christ.  After weeks of trying to pray, trying to talk to God and with God about what the hurt and fear and magnificence of this season was doing to my heart – I got in my car and prayed.  Suddenly, I knew what to ask and thank God for.

Somehow the way I am held and loved by them makes the heart of my heavenly Father so much clearer and my need for Him, and Him alone, so plain.

so how many hugs?

As many as I need  – to see, feel, know, and seek the only one that matters.


a driving kind of beautiful…

September 19, 2009

My dad and I were driving one day. Well, he was driving; I was 7. Maybe 8. Down Roosevelt Blvd we went, past Yerkes Park; I’d seen it 10,000 times.

Seemingly out of nowhere – breaking the discomfort of the silence – he said “you’re beautiful.”


I had never thought or worried about being beautiful. I don’t think I even realized people were judged on things like that.  Who knows why it stuck.

All I knew was that now, this thing called beautiful was important and whatever it was, it apparently made me remarkable.  This intangible quality was the grounds upon which I was worth engaging.

He had never said how easily I mastered any sport I tried.  He never spoke of how my abstract mind was a unique gift that gave me a special kind of intelligence and wit.  He never brought up that I was funny or made known how I could light up a room.  He never broke the silence by saying I had an uncanny ability to make people feel welcomed and included.

No, I’d learn all of those things later, in relationships with friends, boyfriends, pseudo-fathers, and pastors.  It would be all of those men who noticed, revealed, protected, and encouraged those things in me.

But on that day, the distance was bridged with ‘beautiful’ – and then the silence set in again.

Fast-forward 20 years.

That scene flashed across my mind today as my dad sat in the passenger seat of my quintessential white BMW.  A short strapless linen dress, designer of course,  hung delicately on my thin frame.  My perfectly straight short blonde hair outlined painted eyes, white, straight teeth and flawless skin.

We chatted awkwardly.  He doesn’t know me.  He never did.  He never wanted to.  He asks about work. He asks about school. I graciously answer.  Conversations are as they have always been – more a polite dialog than an endearing exchange.

But today, I was driving because he is now blind…

I wonder what he sees.