There’s a trail that goes behind my house with a steady flow of people. During bike rides or in the middle of walks, some will stop a moment and look at the charred remains of our fence. A fire nearly swept through our backyard a month ago, but a garden hose and some well-timed help extinguished the flames.
In a kind of hopeful defiance to that ugly mess, my daughter and I planted some wild-flowers on the trail-side of our fence in the ashes. Isaiah 61:3 says God will give us beauty for ashes. There are little green leaves breaking through the ground now, but in a few months, I want to take pictures of the reds, blues and yellows of those wildflowers rising up in stark contrast to their charred backdrop.
Every morning, my daughter and I have to check those flowers. “You coming?” Joy will ask, and I’ll grab my shoes to join her. It was in the middle of one of those wild-flower checks that I saw Rachel walking down the trail. She’s a neighbor, probably in her late 50’s, who lives alone a few houses up the street. “Hey Rachel!” I shouted.
“Hey!” she yelled back. She was holding a walking stick and stopped a socially acceptable distance away.
“How are you doing?” I asked. She smiled politely and leaned on her stick, taking a second to think.
“Business is hard,” she said. “Nobody wants to move right now, so nobody needs an apartment.” She shaded her eyes with her hand to look at me.
“I’m sorry,” I said. “Are you seeing anyone or talking on the phone with people?” She told me about some family in Kansas, but basically there was nobody. It was a beautiful day with the sun shining and the birds singing, but none of it fit what the two of us were feeling. I didn’t know what to say, and then, finally, looking into her eyes, I asked “Are you feeling discouraged?” It was almost a whisper. She looked at her feet and paused a moment.
“I’m sorry,” she said. Her voice was trembling. “I can’t talk right now.” Wiping away some tears, she moved past me, and I stood on that trail watching her walk away.
It was along that same trail that Josh and Erin, friends from church, peered over the fence and saw me watering. We waved, and Josh shouted, “You wanna see our newest arrival?”
“Of course!” I shouted back, dropping the hose.
“It’s weird,” Josh said, smiling and looking at his wife. “Normally, with baby showers and church, we’d get a chance to show everyone, but with everyone stuck in their homes, most of our friends haven’t even met him yet.” Little Sam slept in the stroller, and we all stared at him as we talked.
It was Easter weekend, and that Sunday morning, I walked downstairs in the early morning quiet. Sitting in my pajama pants and a t-shirt, curiosity was brewing. A sleepy fog hung over me, but I knew there was something about “resurrection” in the end of A Tale of Two Cities, and I couldn’t let it go. My grandpa’s collection of old books were sitting on a shelf in our living room, so I shuffled over to them and found what I wanted. The spine was broken, and it was a little dusty, but I cracked it open and flipped to the end. Over and over, Sydney Carton, one of Dickens’ characters, repeats Jesus’ words, “I am the Resurrection and the Life.” Carton holds the hand of a little girl as they stand in line waiting for their turn to die. The whir of the guillotine smashing through flesh and bone and the shouts of an angry crowd are an awful reminder of what’s ahead.
The little girl confesses to Carton that she’s “faint of heart” and it’s hard for her to “raise [her] thoughts to Him who was put to death.” We can all relate. The comfort and hope only Jesus offers is there, but in the midst of all the noise and fear, looking for Him is hard. Finally, she says, “I think you were sent to me by Heaven.” She’s lost, but she recognizes that maybe God sent Carton to help. The truth Dickens lays out here is profound. We serve a God who sympathizes with our weaknesses. He let Thomas, so full of doubt, touch His wounds, He restored Peter after he denied Him three times, and when life gets dark and we’re struggling to see Him, He gives us people like Carton, or in my case, people like Scotty.
What’s really powerful is that Carton accepts that responsibility. He knows as they stand in that horrible line, that little girl could either watch that bloody blade drop on the necks of the people at the front or she could look at him, so he says to her, “Keep your eyes upon me, dear child, and mind no other object.”
The trail behind my house brings all kinds of people, some like Rachel carrying loneliness, and others, like Erin and Josh, ready to celebrate. They’re all in different places as they walk past, but they have the same need. Whether they know it or not, their hearts are hungry to see Jesus.
He’s here, whispering to our hearts, “Keep your eyes upon me, dear child,” but the storms of life rage. Whether it’s because of the whir of the guillotine and a screaming crowd or a nasty virus and isolation, like that little girl, we struggle to see Him, so He uses you and me to offer some help. I wonder what people see when they peer over my fence or pass me as I’m checking the wildflowers. There’s a whole lot of mess there—anxiety, selfishness, doubt, but Jesus is there too. When people pass me on the trail, I hope that instead of seeing the black ash of a world on fire with panic and fear, they see something like the beauty of wildflowers springing up through the dirt. Just like Carton, even in the mess, we can be the looks, the smiles, the listening ears of Jesus. Because it’s His face we all need to see right now, and it’s the lives He’s changed that bring hope.