I woke up Friday morning with a man and his ladder on my mind.
The God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob chooses to identify Himself by this man’s existence. But on Friday morning, in Genesis 28, Jacob the swindler had to make a quick exit from life as he knew it after his shady, selfish scamming left him on the bad list of a brother with a lot of weapons.
That wild child on the run found himself all alone, in the middle of nowhere. He had just fled from family and was sleeping with a stone for a pillow. God showed up, and gave the first picture of heaven coming down to earth - right there in that rock-bottom resting place. Not a baby in a manger just yet, but also not a rainstorm of mass destruction because the people were screwing up…
The God of Jacob went straight to the screw up and gave him a sneak peak. Angels ascending and descending, making a place of promise for the convicted refugee.
That man woke up and said it, “Surely the Lord is in this place and I was not aware of it.” (Gen 28:16) He looked at his place of exile, and said, “How awesome is this place... This is the gate of heaven.” Then he took that stone, anointed it and he made it into an altar.
He just had to see what was really there, rather than what was happening around him. He just had to see that surely, the Lord is in this place.
I decided right then and there that’s the kind of Friday I was going to have. The kind of Friday where, no matter what I walked into, I would say, “Surely the Lord is in this place.” I would call it down to earth. And I would turn the stones into pillars of promise.
I didn’t even have time to eat breakfast before I got the frantic phone call to get Friday started.
Five days before, Mama Siyabonga had gone out to buy something. She never came back. She left 11-year old Siyabonga behind, along with her ID and possessions. She just didn’t come back.
She’s one of those hard-core, been to hell and back kind of mamas. You wouldn’t believe the stories if I told you, but I can tell you she never recovered. She shut down, and pain, anger and victimization became her most defining features, even consuming her mental functioning.
They say she’s disappeared before. But that was before…
This year, she joined the Sunday Lunch family.
|She's on the far right, and Siyabonga on far left. LOOK at those smiles.|
This year, she joined the church, opened up her heart, and became the hardest working member of the faithful workers who cook and serve hundreds of children at our after school programs.
This year, she danced and smiled and laughed.
The hardened, face of stone had become softer and more beautiful with each week This year, she became family despite all the circumstances life has dealt her.
December came. And she left. Nobody knew why.
At Thursday’s after-school program, pre-pubescent Siyabonga, held my hand and clung to me like a baby boy lost in a supermarket… or like a big boy lost in the world without a mama.
We went looking for her. I drove down roads I didn’t know existed and tried to be the incognito white girl in the bright red Condor while they showed Mama Siyabonga’s ID picture and asked for her. No one had seen her.
We prayed, and decided that if she didn’t show up the next day, on Friday, we would file a missing person report and continue the search. And early on that Friday morning with Jacob’s ladder, I got the phone call. “Kacy, she’s here. But she says she’s not staying. She’s packing her things.”
I picked up a church member, Lucricia, and was there in minutes. We found her, stone-faced and on a mission. She had sent Siyabonga to hire a car to come pick them and their stuff up. They were getting outta there. I watched her wrap her very few possessions in the picnic blanket I had given her. The one that I gave her to spread out in the name of Family, to invite people into her life with on that last Sunday.
|Here's the story about the blankets|
Surely, the Lord is in this place.
I rubbed her back and prayed to the God with a ladder that reaches down to the runaways. Lucricia spoke words of Truth, love and belonging to her in their native language, and then translated my words into their language. That stone face wept. It never softened, but it shook and it shed broken tears.
I grabbed the hem of that blanket and told her, “I didn’t give you this blanket to help you run away. This isn’t what family does. Family doesn’t leave angry or hastily.”
I told her that, if she would stay until the new year and still wanted to leave after that, I would help her move. Siyabonga had returned by this point, and was helplessly and hopefully leaning in. I imagined his silently pleading was similar to mine.
Let her see that surely the Lord is in this place, and let her see Him here. Let her realize the reaching of the God of Mama Siyabonga is more real than the stone, the loneliness, the shame and the exile.
She said she would stay if she could find a new place to sleep.
Mama Siyabonga, Lucricia and I went walking down dirt roads in the early morning hours to find a room for rent. With every step, I breathed out a fact and a prayer: Surely the Lord is in this place.
This mom and her son belong in our family.
There was no room at the inn. For real.
It was time for the Savior to enter our little piece of the world on a Friday morning, and there was no place to stay. We kept walking. And I kept breathing, Surely the Lord is in this place.
He is. And He was.
We found a place. And we made the necessary plans. In less than 15 minutes, we witnessed reconciliation between Mama Siyabonga and a friend, made a plan to help her access electricity, moved all of their belongings in, and Siyabonga was beaming with excitement and relief. And I was giving them a ride to town to buy groceries.
Heaven came down long enough to make a home on this earth. Again. Just like that crazy night when there was no space and no place, the Father made a way.
He turns mangers into miracles, stones into altars.
He sets the lonely in families and releases prisoners from darkness.
‘Tis the season to remember when the heavens entered humanity. The stone was rolled away because this world and death itself couldn’t keep a lid on Life.
I’m not going to pretend like Friday morning ended happily ever after.
The stone never melted into a smile. I watched Mama Siyabonga recklessly run through an entire month’s worth of money. The place they will stay houses a boy that could be a horrible influence on sweet Siyabonga, and the yard is full of empty beer bottles and assorted other disasters in the works. But surely the Lord is in this place.
We all have a story that hasn’t reached happily ever after yet.
We’re all standing in the middle of something.
But surely the Lord is in this place.
A bunch of shivering shepherds, wandering wisemen, and a teenage mom were certainly standing in the middle of something.
And surely the Lord was in that place.
On this Sunday morning, I am declaring Jacob’s words over Mama Siyabonga’s situation, and mine and yours.