I walked up to a man I barely knew and said, “I am going to hug you.” And he opened his arms…
For several years now, we have had a little piece of heaven in our back pocket: a deer lease in Burnet, a tiny town in the Hill Country of Texas. Every so often, we take our camper and kids to unplug and get dirty. We shoot guns, drive four-wheelers, climb rocks, play in the creek, eat sausage and greasy eggs, and surround ourselves with blue bonnets and Indian paintbrushes. We hunt doves, deer, hogs, coyotes, and occasional rattlesnakes. Our clothes are filled with dust, leaves, sweat, prickly pear needles, and those annoying tiny cockleburs that stick to everything – even your bare skin! But we LOVE coming here! We watch the squirrels, collect stick bugs, and talk to the grazing cattle who roam the property with barely any boundaries. We grill our dinner and eat it while sitting in old white paint-chipped iron lawn chairs beside a make-shift wooden table. We watch the sunset as it settles behind huge mountains, casting blue shadows way down into the meadows. Far from quiet, the air is filled with birds chirping, cows mooing, and the buzz of bees in the cacti flowers.
Jay travels here frequently and gets to know all the other lease members. John is the Old Cowboy manager, who lives on the property and drops by the main bunk house to check on the men and any needs they may have. He has two old coon dogs that love him dearly and are always at his side, jumping into the truck whenever he drives the acres and acres of land. He always wears his straw hat and he always has time to speak to our children, asking their ages, names and interests. His hand shake is firm but welcoming and it is very apparent how he simply loves life.
A year ago, John’s wife became very ill. Jay would come home with sad reports after seeing John. As the months went on, she grew worse. Three weeks ago, she passed away.
This weekend our family has come to the lease to have one more big weekend before school starts. And as usual, Cowboy John walked through the back door with his cheery, “Hello?” Jay and Nicholas were out at the feeders, Taylor was reading in the camper, so Benji and I went to the door to greet him. “Hi!” he began, “I’m just checking on ya’ll.” I said hello to him and then boldly and abruptly stated, “I am going to hug you.” And he opened his arms. I shouldn’t have been surprised at his willingness to hug a bit of a stranger, as he is so kind and would welcome a physical touch after a year of pain. But it was funny-weird just the same. I don’t normally go around declaring to strangers I am going to hug them. As I told him how sorry we were and the months we had been praying for him and his wife, I felt his strong bear hug surround me. I heard his jagged breath near my ear as he whispered, “It was six long months of living hell!” As he hugged back, I felt huge sobs rise up his chest. I faced him again; he took both of my hands in his and said through a tough smile, “She’s in a better place now…living in the arms of Jesus!” The gentleman thanked me for our prayers and support, and then peered over my shoulder to speak to my little one behind me.
Later that evening, Jay and I took a sunset four-wheeler ride which included a stretch of road passing John’s place. It was dusk and one lone light burned softly from his front room windows. His manicured porch held wooden rockers and a pot of red flowers. Simple. Bare. But beautiful. I imagined him sitting in his recliner, snuggled with his pups and watching the evening news. But I also imagined the past three weeks of deafening silence and the sense of being alone: perhaps looking at the empty chair at the dining table, no longer hearing someone putter around in the other room, and finding yourself asking a question aloud out of habit…and no one answers.
It’s been just over a year since my Daddy died and I often visualize my mom in their home, continuing to live singularly as Cowboy John. When Jay is gone on trips, the atmosphere and rhythm of our home changes. I notice the differences and am glad when he and “normalcy” returns. For my mom and John, the change has become their normal…and it breaks my heart. I truly believe this is why my soul stretched out its arms before my body knew what was happening. If I could just hug away the hurt… If I could help the restoration in any way… But Isaiah 43:18-19 reminds me: “Do not focus on the former things or ponder things of the past. Behold, do you not see the new thing I am doing? Now it will spring forth! I will make a pathway through the wilderness. I will create rivers in the dry wasteland…”
At times like this I often think of Jesus when His cousin John the Baptist was beheaded. Matthew 14 tells us that “when Jesus heard about John, He withdrew from there in a boat to a secluded place by Himself…” Jesus “knew” John in the womb, as Elizabeth felt John jump in her womb when Mary came to visit. (Luke 1:41) John’s whole ministry was to showcase Jesus. They were family in all ways possible. “Divide and Conquer!” could have easily been their family crest as they lived their lives bringing salvation and encouragement to others. But now one was gone. I hope that God allowed Jesus time enough to grieve, to bear His soul and weep in the presence of His Father, surrounded by all of Nature consoling Him. But even He could not dwell on the past and had to accept the change – the new normal of His life – as immediately after this private time, Jesus met and fed the five thousand. How does one simply pick up and move on? And be so public? I imagine God in all His glory embracing and supporting Jesus, Cowboy John and my mom as they choose to get up and live every day…to smile and hug, to greet and encourage, to take steps beyond their pain, and to try to create a new and different life. And I have to believe that every so often, God mends and sends someone their way to say, “Hey…I’m gonna hug you now.” And perhaps for that moment, they can let down their guard, cry, and be renewed to smile one more day.
From the upcoming book Daily Devotions from a Worn Out, Wacky Woman of God.
From the Vine Ministries is established in Houston, Texas and gives Cyndy the opportunity to reach ladies all across the nation with a message of HOPE. As a wife, mom, and mentor, her utmost desire is to be an ordinary woman used in extraordinary ways for Him alone! Visit FromTheVineMinistries.com for contact information and study material.