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"The Ragamuffin's Christmas"

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Advent Day 4...A Visit With My Grandparents

        See! I make all things new...

 It's colder this morning than it was yesterday...
There has been a lot to consider: Jesus on day one, and Santa on day two, interesting intentional irony. Yesterday was an emotional meeting with Jesus’ earthly father Joseph. That touched me deeply.
Opening the little door for day 4, I see one lone figure kneeling beside the manger and holding the infant Jesus. She is rocking him slowly as he sleeps and she is singing him a lovely song in a beautiful voice that sounds very familiar. It is lilting and sweet and it seems to call to me from years gone by. I think I know this woman, in fact I am sure I know her, but it seems too good to be true.
She leans in close to Jesus and gently strokes his forehead, the way grandmothers do.
She makes no effort to hide or even control her tears. She is safe with this child and she knows it. She has been with him in heaven now for almost 17 years but she makes this pilgrimage each Christmas. Somehow, this time, God saw fit to let me witness it.
She is young and beautiful, like the pictures that I recall from my childhood. She sings a song I recall from those many years ago. I know this song.
She possesses a most beautiful singing voice and it reminds me that she passed this sweet sound on to my daughter. I can almost hear Morgan while this woman sings. This morning she is singing a lullaby to her Savior and it is the most amazing and beautiful sound I have ever heard. It brings her peace to offer a song to Him...this baby. It brings her redemption, too.
I realize that I know this woman, and I watch through many tears. As long as I knew her -for the first 30 years of my life- she loved this child. But one mistake in her past haunted her, and she wrestled with His love for her until, quite literally, her final breath. I was there when she went to meet Him, and I remember. In the days before she went home to Him, she sought reassurance, even after walking in her Faith for over 40 years by that point. He gave her what she sought, and her words as she departed were amazing. She was reaching out her hand toward a Savior only she could see, and repeating "Oh Lord my God...Oh
Lord my God" over and over. And then, she was with Him.
Now here she is again...young, pain free, beautiful, and without shame or guilt or doubt about her eternal safety. She leans in on the infant and I hear her singing to him. It's a song she used to sing to me when I was a little boy growing up in her house. It's the song she wanted to sing to the children she left behind in one moment she regretted for 60 years. She could never find forgiveness from those children, but this child offers it freely and she is giving Him the best gift she has to offer…her love, in the form of a song.
I can't remember the name but it sounds like "Jesus loves me,” or “Jesus Loves the Little Children,” and there are strains of “Haven of Rest" in there too, which was her favorite hymn and she used to sing it all the time. I sang it back to her at her funeral. I would give anything to enter this scene and hug my grandmother one more time but I can't. Even if I could, I don't think I would. This is her moment with Jesus and I can't disturb it. I am privileged to observe it and I will leave it at that.
Her hands caress the face of the boy in the trough and I see they are no longer bent and gnarled by arthritis, but straight and gentle and soft. Her shoulders aren't stooped from the shame she carried about that one decision she made 70 years ago that she never could forgive herself for. She has peace now. Peace with her Savior and her memories.
This is the grandmother I knew and the one I didn't know. This is Dorothea Wray Shanko, my daughter’s namesake and the earliest example of a Christian I would ever see. Perfect and completed in Jesus.
There is a man next to her, and I recognize him instantly and he has the same thick shock of black hair he always did. That was a family trait that I carry too, except mine is brown. I’ve always looked like him, but the way he appears this morning...the resemblance is uncanny. This is the man I saw in his Navy pictures when he was a Seabee in WWII. He is the handsome man I saw on the deck of the "Donna-Kay", the gorgeous 32' Cabin Cruiser he once owned. He is tall and strong and clear eyed. He isn't haunted by his tortured life or his pained memories of his immigrant childhood.
He isn't chained to a bottle anymore. He is free from the demons that stalked him and stole his life. He is my grandfather, Albert Shanko. Everyone called him Jake. He is kneeling by the manger, like he did once in the kitchen of the house on 4th Avenue when I was asleep in my stroller and he didn't want to wake me up and so he got on all fours and crawled out unseen. An amazingly soft and gentle gesture for so gruff a man.
He isn't ravaged by alcohol now. He is whole and perfected. He is strong and his shoulders are straight and his smile is wide and unmistakable. He reaches into the manger and touches the little baby softly. In that touch he finds the forgiveness he needed all his life. He offers the gentleness to this baby Savior that he never had for his own children while he walked this earth. He gives Jesus the love his heart always held but never felt safe to show.
He never had the chance to ask forgiveness when he was alive but he has found it anyway since then. Here in this cave, shipwrecked at the stable, he is the man he always hoped he could be, but never was. He is the grandfather I would have loved to have. He came to this baby only a few scant weeks before he died, so in many ways he is still getting acquainted with him. The manger brings him healing and hope.
The two figures look at each other and it is different than any look I ever saw while they were here on earth. It is a love I have never witnessed. Not a marital affection anymore, but a completion. They are both loving this baby and that is their bond now. No more co-dependence, no more needy, impassioned strife. They are both who they were always meant to be and so much more.
This is the only way they could have found redemption.
They are unified by a baby in a manger. I see them in a way I never saw when they were here. It would have been a wonderful model to witness. I am happy to see it now. This is what a baby does. He changes the beaten and downtrodden and wounded into worshipers. He sobers the intoxicated with the intoxicating power of his love. He surprises you at the reactions He draws out of your soul. But only when you find yourself shipwrecked in his presence and you know you are a ragamuffin.
“We worship You…God of the second chance. Who took these, our failures, that stole the life we dreamed, and have given us life instead".

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