Every road is broken
Baby sister got married. Again. She asked me to officiate the ceremony. Again. I joked that I did the first one twenty-five years ago and it didn’t stick, so maybe she would like to change preachers. She said no. That wasn’t the problem.
She is amazing, my little sister. She is strong and resilient. She put in the work, carried the burden of a one-sided relationship for a quarter-century, and provided the stability her children needed, essentially all by herself. She held on for years longer than anyone close to her thought she should. She fought through long draughts of her husband’s unemployment, giant mess-ups, and stints in jail and halfway houses, waiting on the man she loved to find his footing. She kept waiting for things to change, for him to do better, for at least one promise to be kept. She held on and prayed and cried and worked and waited.
He wouldn’t make a meaningful change, so she finally did.
Letting go is hard to do. Finding yourself a single woman in your 40s after fighting so long and so hard for the life you dreamed of is daunting. But then, to be surprised by love…to find yourself embracing everything you never had before and didn’t dare hope too much to ever find…that would be amazing.
That is just what happened and why I was asked a second time to officiate a wedding for my sister.
I chose an unusual text. I have never personally heard anyone use it in a wedding before. But it felt right to me. I mean, I was a little queasy, worried it might not be completely understood or appreciated. I nearly abandoned it at the very last minute. Nearly. But I did not and I am glad I didn’t.
I will share the text of my remarks with you and let you be the judge…
To the audience:
We are here today to celebrate the love Chance and Tammie have found in one another, to wish them well on their journey together, and to support their decision to become husband and wife, one flesh in the Lord.
To the Bride and Groom:
This isn’t the first time for either of you. You are not starry-eyed teens looking out on a world you have yet to explore, a world that has yet to take its toll on you. You have been here before. You are here now because some of the dreams and the plans you made in the past did not go the way you hoped. Life knocked you down, stepped on you, made you, maybe, at times feel lost, lonely, and worst of all, hopeless.
So, what we are really here to celebrate is the greatness, the goodness, and still-undefeated love of the living God.
The story of Jonah is maybe one of the best-known in all of the Bible. People who never stepped foot in church can tell you Jonah was the fellow who was swallowed by a whale. (It was not likely a whale, but that is beside the point and we won’t quibble over it here.) The bottom line is this: God had a direction he wanted Jonah to go. Jonah had a different idea. God did not stop him. He let him go and he let him experience everything that goes along with going one’s own way – the hardships, the travesties, the consequences. He was told to go to Ninevah. Instead, he boards a ship to Tarshish. A storm comes to the ship he is aboard and it interrupts his plans. It is a horrible, violent storm that threatens to capsize the ship and destroy all the lives aboard. He tells the crew it is his fault because he is running from God. They, in turn, elect to pitch him overboard when the storm does not subside and all appears lost. God then gives the overthrown preacher a ride in a fish’s belly – and a story to tell his children and their children and, really, the whole world to this very day.
When I choose to talk about Jonah, I am not drawing a parallel to the decisions he made and any you have made. I am only using his story to get to one point and I will show it to you in a minute.
After Jonah is three days inside that fish, the fish, unable to digest the stubborn preacher, pukes him up on the bank. So, Jonah, the guy who once had God’s hand on his life, the guy who had a specific call from God to make a great impact on one of the world’s most important population centers, is lying on the bank, smelling of fish puke, pulling sea weed from his hair, thinking, “What now?”
Then we come to two of my favorite verses in all of the Bible, Jonah 3:1,2:
Then the word of the LORD came to Jonah a second time: “Get up! Go to the great city of Nineveh and proclaim to it the message that I give you.”
Tammie, sometimes, when our Dad was dog-tired, he would say, “My get-up-and-go has got up and gone.” I always liked hearing him say that because it meant he was ready to take a break, which meant I could, too. It is often when you are most tired, when you have all but accepted there is nothing better coming, no fresh from word from God, no reassurance, no new plan, it is often then that God speaks. I think this is because, until we get to that point, we are usually too busy trying to “fix” things ourselves to really hear Him anyway.
Your life is no mistake and neither is your journey to this place. Every road in this world is a broken road. Every path is strewn with hardship and heartbreak. It is part of being human. It is hard and sometimes overwhelming, but it is no mistake
Our God has never made – and will never make – a mistake. Our God is so big and so great that even our mistakes are part of His plan. They are factored in.
God doesn’t say, “Well, dadgum it! I didn’t see that coming.”
He doesn’t say, “Oops.”
He says, “I have loved you with an everlasting love.” (Jeremiah 33:3)
He says, “All things work together for the good of those who love Him, and have been called according to His purpose.” Romans 8:28
Don’t miss that word purpose. Everything He does and allows has purpose, is on purpose. He’s just that good. He’s just that great!
And we, your friends and family, are so glad He’s been that good to you, because we love you. We celebrate His love for you and His purpose in your union and in your lives.
This may be the second time for both of you but don’t think God didn’t see that coming and don’t think He doesn’t take it seriously. He does. I know you do, as well. So, cherish the second chance. Nurture this relationship and protect it with all your might.
God blessed the broken road that led you to this place – to each other…to healing, and hope, and love.
You can visit the past…
So, baby sister got married on Friday, and on Saturday we made a trip to Hot Springs, Arkansas, Donya and I.
Nestled in the embrace of the Ouachita Mountains, Hot Springs is the oldest Federal Reserve in the United States. The quaint town is set in the midst of numerous springs of scalding hot water. The springs were the subject of legend among the local native tribes and have long been believed to possess healing and therapeutic powers.
Major League Baseball’s Spring Training was born in Hot Springs. Players went there to heal and recover from the rigors of the game. Players like Babe Ruth and Dizzy Dean were commonly spotted enjoying the local bathhouses and other fares the town offered.
In addition to baseball history, Hot Springs played an integral role in gangster lore. It was a favorite haunt of Al Capone and featured illegal gambling establishments and speakeasies.
It was a popular getaway, resort, and hangout for the famous and the infamous in the late 1800s and throughout much of the 20th century. Today, based on the jammed streets, busy sidewalks, and curio stores, museums, bathhouses, and restaurants teeming with people from other towns, other states, and other countries, I would say Hot Springs is as alive and well as if its heyday was not all but gone and forgotten.
You can walk its streets, sample its foods, and visit its past. You can relive the halcyon days of baseball and the exciting and dangerous Roaring Twenties. You can visit the past…
You just can’t live there
You can relive the past but only in little spurts and only in your mind. You cannot dwell in it, nor should you. At day’s end, the busy streets of Hot Springs and the yesterday they carry you into will darken. The museums will close their doors. The stores and restaurants will, as well. Tomorrow, a new batch of seekers will arrive to fill their jugs with steaming water and their minds with visions of glories and stories past. But then it is back to reality, the nasty now-and-now and the hope of the sweet-by-and-by.
They say you never step in the same river twice and that is how life works. Yesterday is not coming back. The past is replete with information, instruction, and warning. It will serve as a manual but not as a compass. You cannot find relief from today’s troubles or a clear path to tomorrow’s destiny in yesterday’s news.
Yesterday is gone with its joys and sorrows, carrying with it its troubles and missed opportunities. Gone. You can relive it for a moment here and there, but you cannot – and you must not – live there.
But you can dance on it
Our self-guided walking tour of Hot Springs began on the north end of Central Avenue, where the historic Arlington Resort and Hotel, resplendent in its aged beauty and equipped with modern amenities, still welcomes and caters to the whims of the well-heeled. We stopped to peer inside the Gangster Museum, to browse through sundry tourist shops, to investigate the famed bathhouses, to buy a fedora at the Hot Springs Hat Shop, and a pretty little vintage diamond ring at a place called Estate Jewelry. We ate the best pizza outside Italy in a treehouse restaurant and I ogled the Jack Knife Barbershop. I took a picture of the sign announcing a restaurant named “Bubbalu’s” and sent it to my grandson Ty because, when he was small, his Mimi always called him, “Bubbalu, Bubbalu.” (You have to say it twice, of course.)
We strolled past Joanna A. Boutique and The Humidor cigar lounge. Then, we walked right past a Christian Science Reading Room to find two pads where once stood buildings. All that was left of those buildings were their foundations and the tenacious small-cut, Art Deco era (1920) tiles adorning them. I tried to imagine what these pads might have housed originally or what they might have become down through the generations. Maybe a bank or a barbershop, a saloon or a speakeasy. Who knows? But somewhere along the way, they fell into disuse. Was it sudden? What caused it? A fire? There are no lingering signs of such. Did they just sit vacant for too long? Did someone raze them with the intent of building something new in their stead? Were their plans foiled by government or greed or God or…?
Just beyond one of the forsaken pads right there on Hot Springs’ Central Avenue, ironically, is a sign that reads, “Downtown is our business” by Urban Living and Development. Are there yet plans to build apartment lofts there?
Whatever the case, the enduring tile flooring, cracked and dirty, the victim of years of exposure and neglect, remain undiminished and inviting the passersby, those observant enough to consider it, the opportunity to dance, because you can’t go back to the days of their former glory, but you can still dance on them.
So, we did.
And now I’ve come full circle.
My sister and her new husband, already launched into their new life together, cannot go back and undo the hurts and the disappointments that served as markers along the broken road. They cannot even guarantee themselves a smooth road ahead. Neither can I. Neither can you.
But we can still dance on it.