We drove from the Bronx to Ronks yesterday.
About a month ago I purchased two tickets to see the Sight and Sound production of Esther, at their Ronks, PA, location. This was a Daddy date for Corinne Ida Schwartz, since I had not had much opportunity to do something special with her last year when she turned 13 during the height of the Covid lockdown. Corinne loves to listen to good singing, she loves to sing, and she loves to see and hear when singing and acting combine into a story line. If she could have her way, her life would be played out in one long, unbroken musical.
So there we were yesterday. She had been anticipating this trip for weeks, I had been smilingly excited about spending time with my fourteen year old daughter, but somewhat ho-hum about the production itself. We started on our way around 10:00 a.m., stopped at Chipotle around noon, and were sitting there enjoying our food. “Hey,” a guy sitting at another table says to us. “For a while there I was sure you were my former camp counselor, here on a date with your wife, but I think maybe you aren’t the guy who was my camp counselor.” I told him he’s probably right, I’m probably not his former camp counselor. This did not stop him, and he proceeded to tell me all about his life from Washington Heights in Manhattan, to The Bronx, to the camp in Westchester County—and here we were, at a Chipotle in PA. I think that is the first time that Corinne and I got tagged as husband and wife. It happens a good bit to Brianna, which is why she makes a concerted effort, especially if the other sibs are around and Sandy is away, to say “Dad” loudly every now and again to keep inquisitive people in line. Corinne didn’t seem to mind this mix-up. I thought it was kind of funny.
So we made it to Sight and Sound. We got a nice seat in the middle of the house floor. I was completely blown away by the set, the acting, and the singing. The entire production was incredibly well done. About 30 minutes into the story I realized I had better keep a lid on my emotions. It happened when Mordecai began reminiscing how it was when he first took in Esther as a little girl, and now she’s all grown up, and what is going to happen to her? All of a sudden I’m thinking of my daughters and how they are all grown up. I tell myself, “Don’t cry Rich. It’s just a show, you know.” If Mordecai had walked down the aisle past me right about then, I’d probably thrown my arms around him and sobbed. It moved me, you could say. My babies is all growin’ up, y’all. She's been given life and brought into the world, for such a time as this.
After the intermission, the emotion came back and more intense. There was the laughter surrounding the irony of Haman’s flipped position, the amazing bravery of Esther, the praying of the Jewish people, and on it went. It all touched me deep inside. Then the final song included lyrics like “We are not alone,” and celebrated with references to Yahweh. I’m telling you, this was a really good production. I recommend it to anyone who is able to go. Oh, and another perk we had that is not going to happen just every time. We happened to be seated just behind and to the right of two rows of Pentecostal ladies who really got into it. When Mordecai said boldly that he would only bow to His Lord and not to Haman, the one lady yelled out “Amen!” and they was on, baby. Waving their hands in the air when Esther said that her God would protect her, clapping and saying Amen when Esther said we are not alone, these ladies really got excited. It was like we were in heaven’s cheerleading section.
On the way back, Corinne and I finished our Chipotle and stopped at Wendy’s for a Frostie for her. I was getting tired so I figured a Wendy’s coffee would help. It was the closest thing to black truck-stop coffee I’ve had in a long time, but I survived. It was a good trip back, listening to Fiddler on the Roof songs in the car, sharing song preferences from Spotify, and talking about life. This young woman Corinne is a good gift to our family. I’m glad we could spend some real time together.
Finishing up an insurance report this afternoon, I took a break from the mundane and set my gaze on the divine.
Did you know that our relationships with each other touch on the divine? You’ve probably thought of this before, but here it is if it did not cross your mind today. I’ve been pondering that this week. Rich Mullins’ song “We are not as strong as we think we are” came to mind this afternoon. He has this shiver-my-spine, oh-so-accurate line that says “With these our hells and our heavens so few inches apart, we must be awfully small and not as strong as we think we are.”
Yes, we are not as strong as we think we are.
This morning I had the incalculably blessed opportunity to teach two classes on Peacemaking. The more I consider Jesus’ words “Blessed are the Peacemakers, for they will be called the children of God,” the more I want to become a more excellent peacemaker. When Jesus said to his disciples “If you want to be great in the Kingdom of God, you must be a servant,” He did not tell them to stop trying to be great. Think of it. Jesus left the door open for us to want to be great. But the greatness must be in the form of servanthood, humility, others-centered, submission to the Master. If you want to be great, you have to be a servant. I’ve thought of that lesson in reference to Peacemaking. What if, by the power given to Christ-followers through the Holy Spirit, a whole generation of Christ-followers would set out to become GREAT PEACEMAKERS. I don’t want to just be a peacemaker. I want to become an excellent peacemaker. I don’t want to just be a so-so listener. I want to become an excellent listener. I don’t want to just sort of radiate the glory of Christ. I want to become a polished mirror that reflects the glory of Christ clearly in thought, action, and speech.
What does that have to do with “these are hells and our heavens”? More casual, less compelling lines could have been written into Mullins song. Maybe “our sorrows and our joys” or “our pain and our fulfillment.” The greatest joys in this world are found by the redeemed in the presence of the Maker of the Universe, our Heavenly Father, Lord of All. And the greatest relational joys I have ever experienced on this earth apart from being in the presence of Christ have been found in God-ordained relationships with His people. Relating with followers of Jesus has given me the closest and clearest windows into heaven that I have experienced. These are my heavens.
But now comes the nearly paralyzing and painful confession. Some of the greatest sadness and confusion and pain that I have ever experienced in my life has come from—sigh. You guessed it, relationships with Christ-followers that have gone off the rails somehow. These relational dysfunctions are my hells, if you can allow me to use the term. I thank God that the “hells” just described are temporal and do not have to be permanent. I thank God that forgiveness is a God-offered choice and I have extended forgiveness to others, and others have forgiven me. I thank God that reconciliation is available, and difficulties do not have to last a lifetime. But broken relationships inflict deep pain. Yes, pain that comes from broken relationships can be almost too intense to accurately describe.
I’ve heard that cool line “It’s better to have loved and lost than to not have loved at all.” I’m going to agree with the one who coined that line. I won’t walk away from God and from his church just because there is brokenness and hurt and pain and misunderstanding. In fact, the reason I need Christ and His church more and more is that I need my broken-ness and hurt and pain and misunderstanding to be met by the love and forgiveness and healing of Christ and His church. I need to walk each day into a more whole representation of the man that God has called me to become. So because Christ has loved me so much and has given me His church, I will walk in His love and love and be loved by His church. I need the church.
Now that I’m on a roll, I will pivot a bit and mention that I attended a funeral of my step-brother, Andy Miller, over the weekend. We received the shocking news last Tuesday (June 15) that Andy, who had been dealing with several weeks of weakness from Covid, suddenly had chest pains and collapsed. They could not revive him. He had no comorbidities or underlying health conditions—he was actually the picture of good health until his 48 year old body died and allowed his spirit to be released to the Lord. Andy leaves behind a legacy of consistency, care, service, and strength. His passing leaves a huge void for his family.
I traveled to Missouri for the funeral. It was good to reconnect with my stepbrothers and my stepsister and the rest of my cousins. As I stood by the grave and watched my stepbrothers, Kevin and Chad, and some other men moving boards and lowering the casket, I thought to myself “I like those guys a lot. They are really good guys.” And then I thought “I hate death. You know, the Bible says that the last enemy to be destroyed is death. Death is an enemy.” And I became motivated to fight death. I will not let death to steal my joy. There is an enemy of our souls, the devil, and at some point the devil will be destroyed, and with him, death.
At some point, I will die, and after that will be the judgment. But while I still live, I will love the Lord my God with all my heart, with all my soul, and with all my mind. And I will love my neighbor as I love myself. These are my heavens.
If the “hells” of brokenness and hurts and misunderstanding in relationships come- and they will- I don’t have to stay stuck. Because Jesus loves me, I can get up by the power of the Holy Spirit and keep loving Jesus and being loved by Him. And I will keep loving others.
Son of the Father, husband to Sandy, father of six amazing gifts, Bronx brother, active participant in Believers in Jesus Church, insurance adjuster, occasional runner