Friday, August 31, 2012


I've decided to share (over time) some of the short story "sermons" I'm writing.  If you read them, and then I come to your church and tell it from your pulpit because your minister's away and you ask me to fill in, your boredom is not my fault.

Ruth is told as a story.  As such, it engages our curiosity and remains strong in our memories.  It’s a pleasure to read Ruth, but it can also be frustrating.  On the surface Ruth appears to be yet another story about God using a woman’s reproductive abilities to get to the important people.  The men.  Men like her great grandson, King David.  But I think Ruth is about a great deal more than that.  It’s about loyalty.  It’s about women helping women.  It’s about God using even the most insignificant outsider to further God's will.  Without Naomi, Ruth would have disappeared into obscurity, never having experienced God’s grace in her life. 
The story (fictional) I have written is also about women who learn from each other's experiences and find grace in each other's stories.  What it isn't is a story about finding security in a man.
On the surface, you may think that's what Ruth is about and I've missed the mark, but I think the real message of Ruth is that faith is passed on from strong relationships.  God rewards love’s loyalty with blessings far beyond anything the world might have to offer. 

Take a moment to read the scripture from your favorite translation.  It isn't long, but it assumes you know much of the story of Ruth already.  
Ruth 1:16

            When Brook’s high school called saying she had not shown up that morning, Michaela thought she knew where to look first.  She was aware that her daughter snuck out of school from time to time and met her mother, Maxine, at local diners for coffee and tall tales.  Maxine was always good for a few of those.  But when Michaela finally got her mother on her cell phone, Maxine sounded genuinely alarmed by the accusation.
“She’s not with me, Mic.  You need to call the cops.”
Maxine, no matter how often she’d been gently coerced back to Stony Creek Convalescent home by some poor, hapless police officer, still insisted on calling them ‘cops.’  But never mind that.  Michaela wasn’t buying that Maxine didn’t know where Brook was.  Not for one minute. She pulled into Stony Creek Convalescent Home and charged straight for the administrator’s office. 
             “My mother is missing,” she blurted.
            The administrator, Mrs. Hanover, a diminutive woman with a short round everything, held up her hand as if taking an oath.  “We haven’t let her out of our sight, Michaela.  She’s probably just not answering her phone.”
            “Oh, she’s answering her phone,” Michaela said.  “From some coffee house or diner with my daughter in tow.  You can’t seriously think you’re keeping her locked in here,” Michaela said.  “I know my mother.  She’s escaped with my daughter and I demand that you help me find her.”
             “She’s with Dean,” Mrs. Hanover insisted.  “We assigned her a personal, um, attendant.  I assure you, Dean has not let her out of his sight.”
            “Fine, then.  I want to see her,” Michaela said, crossing her arms across her chest.
            Mrs. Hanover picked up an intercom mic and pushed a button on it.  “Dean,” she said.  “Dean Lamb, please call the front office.”
            They waited. No one called.  Mrs. Hanover was about to restate her demand when a young man with wide, opal-blue eyes and frazzled black hair burst into her office.  He looked distraught.  Poor fellow.
            “I… she’s…”
            “Oh, good Lord!” said Mrs. Hanover.  “You don’t mean to tell me Maxi has disappeared again.”
            Dean looked at his shoes.
            “And she has my daughter,” Michaela said.  “Now, what are you going to do about it?”
            Maxine sat down to catch her breath on a bus stop bench just outside Starbucks Coffee.   She’d been out walking for almost an hour now.  The last time she’d had such a hike was in 1996 when she was a mere pup of 67 and was looking for a birthday present for Michaela’s five year old, Brook.  They had to find a Tickle Me Elmo or die trying.  Maxine wished a Tickle Me Elmo were all she was looking for now.  Today, it was Brook herself she needed to find.
            After Michaela called, her first inclination had been to check S. Main Starbuck’s.  When Maxine escaped Stony Creek Convalescent and Brook escaped High School, that’s always where they met.  Then, over cappuccinos and triple berry muffins, Maxine would tell Brook stories about her life and Brook would fill her in on the latest High School drama.  But Brook was not at Starbuck’s.  Maxine’s next move had been to look for Sade’ Pembroke’s address in the phone book.  Sade’ was Brook’s best friend and Maxine was fairly certain she’d find Brook there.  450 Galloway Dr.  She knew the neighborhood, palatial Mcmansions on postage stamp lots.  It was a good three mile walk from S. Main but Maxine was certain it was here she’d ferret out Brook. They’d talk, and Brook would tell her Granny Max what was up.  They were close like that. 
            A police car cruised by and Maxine held her breath.  No doubt they’d issued a Silver Alert and Maxine was a wanted escapee now.  She smiled with pleasure at the idea, but the police car passed without stopping.  Close one! 
            Maxine rose from the bench, her knees popping and cracking.  She wondered what the good folks at Stony Creek were doing about now.  She’d probably gotten that sweet Dean kid in trouble.  She felt sorry about that.  But this was an emergency and Maxine would cover her tracks later.
            The sun was quite warm for April and Maxine had not been prepared for a hike.  She’d been unable to get to her purse with Dean hanging around her all the time, so she didn’t have her credit card and couldn’t call a cab. 
She was aware of how she must look, covered in sweat, wearing a moo-moo and house slippers, tottering down one of the wealthiest streets in Brownsville.  She passed a BMW parked along the curb and glanced at her own reflection.  She looked wild and a little crazy.  She felt a satisfied cackle rising in her throat.
            Sade’s home was the fourth on the left.  Holy cow, it was the Taj Mahal!  Maxine turned onto the walkway, textured concrete lined with dewy, red flowers.  The surrounding grass (what there was of it) was a perfect chemical carpet of jade.  Maxine stopped to catch her breath after she climbed the steps to the grand front porch and pressed the front door bell.  A few notes of Pachelbel played somewhere deep within the house.    
The door swung open and a tiny raisin of a woman in a black dress, white apron and, no lie, a tiny white cap looked at Maxine with a burst of alarm. 
“Need to see Sade’,” Maxine croaked, breathlessly.  “She’s my granddaughter’s friend.  I need to know if my granddaughter is here.”
“Aqui?” said the woman.
“Yeah,” Maxine said with extra volume.  “Donde-o is Sade’?”
Obviously, Maxine’s Spanish was faulty because the woman closed the door in her face and Maxine could hear quick, panicked footsteps walking away.
She’d done it now!  They’d call the cops and Maxine would be carted off to jail until Mic could come bale her out.  The thought was so delicious she almost cackled again. 
More footsteps within and the door swung open to reveal a tall, elegant woman whose dark eyes conveyed a haughty intelligence.  She smiled the kind of smile you give someone you’re hoping will soon go away and leave you alone.
“Maxine Ferris,” Maxine said.  She wiped her hand on her moo-moo and held it out to Sade’s mother.  “I’m Brook’s grandmother.”
“Oh!  I thought you…” Sade’s mother caught herself and took Maxine’s hand.  “I’m Geneva.  Please, come in Mrs. Ferris.”
“Ms.” Maxine corrected her.
“Yes, Ms. Ferris.  Come in.”  Geneva glanced beyond Maxine looking, Maxine supposed, for a taxi or some other mode of transportation that might have brought her here or might, in a moment, take her away again.
“I’m afraid Sade’ isn’t here at the moment,” Geneva said.  “Nor is your Brook.  School hours, you know.  If I may ask, Ms. Ferris, how did you get here?”
“Hoofed it,” Maxine said.  “But surely school’s out by now.”
“Still in session, I’m afraid.”  Geneva led Maxine to a silky blue love seat that was nestled against the wall of the entryway.  “Please have a seat, Maxine.  May I call someone?  Is Brook in some sort of trouble?”
Maxine plopped down on the couch.  Her feet, knees, and hips throbbed in response. 
“Brook didn’t show up at school,” Maxine said leaning down and massaging her own calves.  “Her mother hasn’t called the cops yet, so I’m looking for her. I don’t suppose you could get me a glass of water?”
 Geneva responded with the expected effluence of apologies and whisked herself out of the room to get the water.  Maxine considered snooping around while she could, but her legs refused to help her stand.  Momentarily, Geneva returned with a tall glass of iced water that Maxine gulped down too fast making her feel light headed on top of bone tired. 
Her thirst slaked, Maxine looked around the foyer, if that’s what this was.  It was bigger than the living-room of her last home.  A Tara sized staircase led to another grand landing that was lined with what looked like museum statues.  Nothing was out of place, so Maxine looked around for what was and she found it.  A bejeweled pink cell phone peeked out from under some bills and official looking mail on a glossy console table. 
“Isn’t that Sade’s phone?” Maxine asked.  In truth, Maxine had no way of knowing it was Sade’s phone except that she seriously doubted Geneva would bejewel her cell phone.
“Oh!  Well, yes, it is,” Geneva said.  “She must have forgotten it this morning.”
Maxine looked back up the staircase.  “This is a pretty big house,” she said.  “Are you sure Sade’s not hiding out in one of those rooms upstairs?” 
“I promise you,” Geneva said.  “Sade’ does not cut school.”
Maxine smiled as much at Geneva’s naiveté as at what she was about to do.  “Brook!” she shouted.  “Brooooook!”
Geneva took a step back and held up her hands as if to catch Maxine’s volume and contain it. 
“Brook, it’s your Granny Max.  I’m coming up the stairs, sweetheart, and Geneva’s going to have to call the cops to get me out of her house.  Then it’s all up, sugar dumpling!  Your Granny will be in jail and you’ll be under house arrest for the remainder of your days in high…”
A door opened and shut upstairs. 
“Thought so,” Maxine said, looking triumphantly at Geneva who charged to the bottom of the staircase and looked up into the guilty eyes of Brook and her daughter. 
“Sade’,” she barked.  “What on earth…”
“It was an emergency, Mom,” Sade’ said.  “I’ll explain if you don’t get too mad.”
“Then come down here and explain,” she said. 
Sade’ plodded woefully down the stairs under Geneva’s harsh gaze.  “To your father’s office,” she said, pointing to a heavy oak door on the other side of the foyer.  When they were behind the door Maxine looked up at Brook.
“I’m afraid you’ll have to come down here, kumquat,” Maxine said.  “I’m pooped out.”
Brook descended the stairs and plopped down beside Maxine.  “I’m running away,” she said.
Maxine nodded.  “Figured.”
“With Proust,” Brook added.
“Figured that too,” Maxine said. 
“You understand, don’t you, Granny Max?  I can’t take her anymore.”
“I’ve never known a sixteen year old girl who could take her mother,” Maxine said.  “But they usually wait it out, Brooksy.  They don’t run off.  Especially with the wrong …” Maxine couldn’t believe she was going to say this… “kind of boy,” she finished.
The shocked silence of her granddaughter made Maxine take a guilty sideways glance at Brook’s face.  Sure enough, Brook’s mouth was hanging open and her eyes were welling up.
“But you said you liked Proust,” Brook said.
“I said he’s the kind of boy I’d have gone for.  I didn’t say I liked him.”
“But if he’s the kind of boy you’d have…”
“And that should tell you something!” Maxine interrupted.  “Why do you think I went through three marriages?  Why do you think your mother is so uptight?  You think she never had a rebellious bone in her body, don’t you?  How do you rebel, Brooksy, when your own mother has taken that role?  You become a conformist, get all traditional.  Cut her some slack; she couldn’t help it.”
“You don’t know what it’s like,” Brook said.  “She checks how low cut my jeans are before I leave the house.  She snoops on my cell phone.  She listens to my messages.  She quotes Bible verses to me and tells me who to hang out with.   I have to go to every church service there is.  If she had her way, I’d dress like Mother Theresa and never date again.”
Maxine couldn’t help but laugh.  “I know,” she said.  “But you could do worse than Mother Theresa and I’ll talk to her about the snooping.  As for the church stuff and the religion…” Maxine paused.  Religion had never been her strong suit.  The truth was, she’d always had the sense that church people were wagging their fingers at her, insisting that she give up every bit of color in her life in order to become… well, as dull as they were.   In every church she’d felt a sharp sense of disapproval.  She was an outsider, an intruder. Granted, when she’d come to church at all, she’d done so with a chip on her shoulder daring God to reveal himself in the faces of hostile church ladies.  But she had also seen her daughter, Michaela, find peace there.  A peace she’d never found at home.  Mic had found a foundation in the church that Maxine knew hadn’t come from her.
“I could have been wrong about that.” Maxine said.  “I think Mic’s religion grounds her.  I used to think it just limited her.  You know, her mind.  And I suppose it can if you get with the wrong group.  But Mic, she’s pretty smart about those things.  I have to admit, her faith has given her some good things.  I doubt you’d have turned out quite so strong and self-assured if you’d grown up with me.”
Maxine had never done this much confessing.  It was true what they said about it.  She felt a little freer, a little more centered.
“So be careful who you follow, Brooksy,” Maxine continued bolstered by her new sense of freedom.  “Proust, he’s a decent kid, but he’s wild and to be honest, I don’t think you can trust him.  He has a lot of growing up to do.  For now, you stick with your Mom, learn the things she has to teach you.  Even if it’s tough and even if she turns all churchy on you, it’s possible that she understands some things about God and real Love that I’ve never thought much about.  At least not enough. She has your best interest at heart.  She might actually be the only adult I know.”
For a long stunned moment, Brook remained speechless. 
“You get as mad at her as I do,” Brook said.  Her large grey eyes were boring a hole into Maxine’s head, trying to find the source of this unprecedented support for Michaela.  “Why suddenly change your mind?”
Why indeed.  Maxine knew and decided to be direct.  “Because my life’s coming to a close,” she said.  “Gives me some perspective, sweetheart, and boys, they’re nice.  They’re better than nice.  But they aren’t who you are.  Oh, I’ve had fun with being in love.  But maybe it isn’t always about fun.  Maybe it’s about the hard stuff too, and to be honest, I’ve never been very good at that.  If it was hard work, I always left it to Mic and I have to respect her for never ditching.  When the going got tough, I got out, but Mic, she just dug in a little deeper and stood her ground.  I hurt a lot of people who didn’t deserve it by running, Brook.”
Maxine looked at her granddaughter.  “Don’t be like your old Granny Max,” she said.  “Stay with Mic a little longer.  She has some things to give you I think you should take.”
Brook sat quietly for a long time studying the geometric patterns on the floor.  Then two things happened at once.  Sade’ and her mother came out of the study and the front door burst open revealing a ruffled and miffed Michaela.  Dean and Mrs. Hanover stood behind her, looking contrite and none too happy.
“Uh-oh,” Maxine said.  She grabbed Brook’s hand and said quickly, under her breath, “Follow my lead.”
“…and I’m just not sure we are,” Maxine said, doing her best little old person.  “Did you say we’re home?”  She looked innocently at Brook.
“Not quite, Granny Max,” Brook said.  “But I think Mrs. Hanover will take you back now if you want.  See?  She’s right there!”
“Oh!” Maxine said.  She squinted at Mrs. Hanover.  “Myrtle!  I thought you were dead!”
“Nice try Maxine,” Mrs. Hanover said. 
“May I ask who you are?” Geneva pulled herself up to her full height and took on that I’m in charge here look she’d had when she was first talking to Maxine.
“Why, don’t you know Myrtle?” Maxine said, still playing her role. 
“I’m sorry”, Michaela said.  “You must be Sade’s mother.  I’m Michaela, Brook’s mother.”  They shook hands.  “I promise, all of these people are going to be leaving your home.  Right now,” she added glaring at Maxine.
Dean stepped forward and leaned over to help Maxine stand.  “You got me in sooo much trouble, Maxi,” he whispered. Brook, overhearing, giggled. 
“And who are you, young man?” Maxine asked. 
He smiled down at her.  “Your worst nightmare if you do that again.”  He led Maxine out the front door. 
“Come on, Brook,” Michaela said.  Brook looked up at her mother’s stern face and followed her onto the front porch.  As Geneva slammed the front door, Brook gave a last I’m sorry look to Sade’.
“Sade’s mom will probably ban me from her house forever,” Brook moaned. 
Michaela stopped on the porch and turned to Brook.  “With good reason,” she said.  “What were you thinking, Brook?  You knew that if you skipped school again they’d call me and I’d come looking for you.  Then when I called them back to see if you’d turned up yet, they said Sade’ was missing too.  You had to know I’d come here.”
“Maybe,” Brook said.  “I was thinking about running away with Proust because sometimes I can’t take you anymore.  There.  I said it.”
“And Granny Max was helping you scheme?”
Brook looked at her mother, fresh anger hardening her mouth.  “She was talking me out of it.”
Michaela stared at her daughter for a long moment then took in a long slow breath.  She held it and then let it out between puckered lips. 
“Didn’t see that coming, did you?” Brook said. 
Michaela shook her head.  “Nope.  What else did she tell you?”
 “She told me how it was to be her daughter,” Brook said, “so don’t go raggin’ on Granny Max.”
Michaela looked skeptical.
“She said I should stay with you,” Brook continued.  “She said that you still had some things to give me that I should take.  She said I should learn from your faith and stuff.  She said you were the only adult she knows and I shouldn’t run.”
Maxine had not put it exactly that way, but Brook was on a roll and talking through Granny Max was easier than saying it herself.
Michaela eyed Brook with suspicion but decided to take an inch where she could get one. 
“She said I was the only adult she knows?  She said that?”
Brook nodded and dropped her gaze. 
“And that you should learn from my faith?”
            Brook bit at her fingertips and glanced at her mother’s face.  “I’m not sure about faith,” Brook said.  “But I’ll listen.”
“I see,” Michaela said.  “So when I drag you to youth group Sunday, you aren’t going to complain?"
“Maybe,” Brook said.  “But I’ll go.”
“Because Granny Max thinks you should.”
“Yes,” Brook said.  “Because Granny Max thinks I should.”
Well, it wasn’t what Michaela wanted.  She wanted her daughter to listen to her, to follow her lead.  But this was actually a great deal better than she thought things would go, so Michaela decided not to push back.  This time, she’d pull in the same direction as her mother.  She wasn’t quite sure how that would work, but it felt good to be on the same team for once. 
Michaela looked over Brook’s shoulder at Maxine as Mrs. Hanover helped her into the car.  Maxine caught Michaela’s stunned gaze and winked at her daughter. 
“Can you two hurry it up over there?” Maxine called, obviously dropping the confused old lady routine.  “My soap starts in half an hour.”
Brook headed for the car and Michaela followed, a prayer of thanksgiving rising in her heart.  “Thank you for sending Maxine to talk to Brook,” she prayed and then smiled at the novelty of her own words.  That was certainly something she’d never believed she’d say to God or to anyone else.  It felt pretty good.