To Be Together: A Holiday Guest Post by Berry Simpson

For a special holiday treat, I thought I'd try something a little different. In this post, my friend Berry Simpson, author of Trail Markers, Remodeled, and other books, shares his heart and wisdom on the gift of family togetherness. Since my introduction to Berry's writing in 2012, when I edited Remodeled, I've appreciated his gift as a writer for sharing plainspoken, heartfelt wisdom gleaned from his life as a runner, an outdoorsman, a Bible teacher, a blogger (What I've Learned So Far), and above all, a lover of God and his family. It is this last that he writes about here in his piece titled . . .

To Be Together

(C)2017 by Berry Simpson

We had a family photo shoot Saturday afternoon organized by our daughter, Katie, with her extraordinary photographer friend, Cindy. We were in Mansfield, Texas, about five hours from our house in Midland. That might seem like a long drive for pictures, especially since we were all together the week before for Thanksgiving. I would have thought so myself a few years ago, but nowadays I think it makes complete sense.

We had our entire tribe: our daughter, Katie, and her two girls, Madden and Landry; our son, Byron, who drove down from extreme north Dallas; Zoe, an adopted tribe member and exchange student from Germany currently living with Katie and the girls; and Cyndi and me. We met at a local country club, a location that Cindy, the photographer, uses often, since “they’ve never chased me away.” It was a fun afternoon. We posed in every possible combination: the girls, the girls with their mom, the entire family, the family with Zoe, Cyndi and me with the girls acting silly in the grass, and the crowd favorite, Cyndi and me kissing.

The Gift That Can’t Be Wrapped

The morning before, I participated in a video conference with my great friend Gary from Colorado Springs. He was recording an interview about how calling changes your life and ministry, and we started talking about our recent Thanksgivings. We laughed at how being grandfathers has changed our family gatherings. For instance: I remember asking my parents what they wanted for Christmas, and all they would say was, they wanted us to be together. We wanted them to tell us something we could wrap and put under the tree; they would never commit to a gift that I could put in a box.

Now I am the one who tells my kids that for Christmas, all I want is for us to be together. Only now do I realize how important that is. Now I get to watch my kids roll their eyes. It has come full circle. Like that.

We are blessed as a family. I thank God for that every time we are together. We are able to spend time with each other and still remain friends. I never knew how rare that was until I heard so many men tell their life stories. Now I am convinced we are blessed. For Thanksgiving we had mostly traditional food. (Zoe was fascinated by my process of carving turkey! Had I known how closely I would be observed, I would’ve watched a few more YouTube videos to polish my skills.) We enjoyed grilled sweet potatoes, homemade bread, homemade apple pie, homemade hand-decorated sugar cookies, brisket chili rellenos, sweet potato pie, all the other favorites—and no green bean casserole! But what we most relished sharing were the stories and the laughs and the embarrassing family memories.

My Father’s Greatest Legacy

This year was my first Thanksgiving holiday in a decade with neither of my parents present. My mom died in 2014, and my father died just last March, eight months ago. Several people, both family and friends, asked how I felt about not having my dad with us, and was I OK being the oldest person in my lineage. To be honest, the topic had never occurred to me. I said, “When Dad died, we were all caught up. There were no stories untold and no grudges or secrets between us. His was a peaceful and well-deserved departing. Dad left us in good shape, loving each other and loving Jesus. The holiday was great.”

On her most recent Christmas album, Amy Grant sings:

When you open up that door

To old familiar rooms of love and laughter

Coming home just the way you are

Knowing this is all that really matters

To be together

And so, only a week after we saw each other at Thanksgiving, we were all together again taking official family photos. It was fun. And our favorite part was when Cindy the photographer asked us to move closer to each other and snuggle more.

I’m not so naïve as to think everyone has together moments like this. But whatever time you have with the people you love, I hope you lean in and find a way to enjoy each other.

Together.

Time of Landing Flies

This is the time of year when flies land on me.

Well, not just me. Not to be insulting, but I'm sure they land on you too. That's how it is with flies as the days grow shorter: they land on people. Also on the rims of coffee cups, and sandwiches, and plates on which sandwiches reside, and glasses of milk, and computer keyboards, and so on, edibles and nonedibles. Mostly, though, they land on you and me.

Native Americans had a name for this season: Quish-qua-go-yomama, "Time of Landing Flies." * As the maples don their scarlet robes, and asters glaze the meadows, and the angling sun gilds storybook landscapes, flies lose their minds. It's the one thing that can disrupt the poetry of autumn, not to mention my focus. I'll be sitting with my laptop, writing some profound piece of lyricism that requires all the candlepower I can muster....

Me: <[Typing] O moon-kiss'd maid with...

Fly: [Lands on my wrist] Bzzzt! (Translation: "Hi!")

Me: [Absentmindedly flick my wrist and return to typing]...a booger in thy nose / Wherefore art thou Romeo's? / Would that I might...

Fly: [Buzzes around a bit, then returns to my wrist. Flies are nothing if not persistent.] Bzzzt! ("I like you!")

Me: [Flick my wrist again] Dammit.

Fly: [Lands on the frame of my computer screen] Bzzzt! ("Will you be my friend? I think we could be great chums, you and I.")

Me: [Swatting at fly] Get a-WAY! Go! Shoo!

Fly: [Returns to the frame] Bzzzt! ("I offer you friendship. You respond with hostility. Will you not reconsider? I have powerful connections.")

Me: [Positioning my hands to clap them together against the fly] You shall die.

Fly: Uh-oh. [Takes off before I can nail it, then circles back and lands momentarily on my knee, out of reach] Bzzzt! ("Pthhhhtttt!")

I once was having a tabletop conversation with a friend when a fly zipped down out of nowhere like a tiny black meteor, straight at my shirt front. I glanced down at my chest but saw nothing, so I continued talking. But my friend's eyes had grown large, and I could tell something was distracting her. Finally she said, "Bob, did that fly just fly into your pocket?"

"Ha, ha!" I said. "Nah!"

Then from my pocket I heard a muffled Bzzzt! (Translation: "Don't be too sure about that.")

I looked down. There was the fly, looking up. We locked eyes, not an easy feat when teeny-weeny compound eyes are involved. "Bzzzt!" said the fly, which I took to mean, "This is great! I really like it in here."

That's how flies are this time of year. They whiz all over the place like miniscule stunt pilots on amphetamines, performing side slips and barrel rolls and all kinds of maneuvers with no discernible purpose. Then they land on me.

I don't get it. I don't like it. And I don't like flies.

"Bzzzt!"

No, we cannot be friends. Now get off my kneecap.

__________________________

* Actually, Native Americans had no such name. I made it up just now. But they would have invented it if they'd been paying attention.

Seventy-Seven Times

There he was, crouched in front of the fire, poking the logs with a stick to refresh the flame. Peter sat down on a large, flat stone next to him. "Jesus?"

"Yes?" He didn't look up.

"I have a question. How many times must I forgive my brother? Seven times?" Jesus gazed into the fire, seemingly captivated by the orange heat that wavered and crawled across the coals. Firelight and shadow played across the side of his face. Then...

"No, Peter, not seven times. Seventy-seven times."

"Whaaat! How am I supposed to keep track of that?"

"Exactly."

Not seven times. Seventy-seven times.

Like three and forty, the number seven in the Bible has particular significance. It represents perfection, completion, or so I've heard it said through the years, often enough that I think it's true. So what does it mean to forgive seventy-seven times? What was Jesus telling Peter--and what is he telling us?

How about this: Forgive, and keep forgiving, until the job is done. Forgive without keeping score, unto perfect perfection. Whatever it takes. Do it.

What Forgiveness Is Not

Notice that Jesus is not saying, Trust. He is not advocating, contrary to all common sense, that you put your confidence in a person whose behavior is patently untrustworthy. You can forgive the mad dog that bit you, but you're a fool to step back into the kennel with it.

Jesus is also not saying, Forget. Forgiveness is not forgetfulness. Forgetfulness may follow forgiveness--or it may not. But forgiveness doesn't hinge on your ability to blot something out of your mind. After all, you can't forgive what you've forgotten.

Finally, Jesus is not saying, Deny the injury. Forgiveness is not denial. Don't tell yourself the wound is nothing. You can't forgive nothing; you can only forgive an actual wrong done to you. It matters. It is something, not nothing.

No, forgiveness is not blind trust, nor impossible forgetfulness, nor pretending the arrow in your back doesn't hurt. It is, rather, a seventy-seven-mile journey of desiring God's truth, grace, and freedom, not an eye for an eye, for the one who hurt us.

It starts, perhaps, with this: "If I could send them to hell, I would not."

It moves into this: "Father, grant them life!"

And it ripens, I would like to think, into peace, gladness, and wholeness of heart for ourselves.