It was draining.
You know–not really raining but too wet to be called a drizzle? Like that. Draining.
It fit my mood. Grey. Drab. Unremarkable. Yeah–draining.
I was wearing a quilted flannel jacket but I’d forgotten a hat. No. Truth. I just didn’t wear one. The only reason to wear a hat is if there’s a good reason. Weather. Sun. Protection. Plus I was in a rotten mood. Granger would call me recalcitrant or some such.
Well, he’d get his chance. I was walking over to see him.
I knew he’d have coffee hot and ready. He always does. The minute I stepped inside his building I could smell the aroma only fresh-brewed coffee can make first thing in the morning. I stood for a moment, shrugging out of my sodden jacket and trying to make my hair look like I really DID know when to come in out of the drain. Even in the small mirror hanging in the foyer evidently provided for recalcitrants like me, it wasn’t looking good. Hair, or . . . much else.
I stood there looking at myself. No idea what I was looking for, or why. I glanced around for something to use to dry off. All in sight was an empty umbrella stand . . . Oh, right. Rub it in.
“You look and seem as though you could use this.”
Granger stood at the top of the stairs, a steaming mug of coffee in his hand. He pointed with his chin.
“There’s a towel in the bathroom under the stairs. Dry off and then come on up–and bring your jacket. We’ll toss it in the dryer.” He came downstairs enough to hand me the coffee, then turned and went back up to his office. At least I guess it’s his office. Sometimes I wonder just what that room really is . . . Granger is unlike anyone I’ve ever—-
Wow. I was standing there, jacket half-off, spacing out into the mirror again.
Bathroom. Towel. Comb. Comb? Now, how would he know to have a—-
We sat in companionable silence. Granger kept his office in an older building created by craftsmen who must have taken great pride in their trade. Ornamental woodwork such as the mantel over the small fireplace was carved, not stamped. A cheery wood fire was warming the room. It hadn’t yet reached my soul.
I wasn’t afraid to speak openly with him. Granger always seemed willing to just sit and listen. I never sensed embarrassment or censure. Never ridicule. It seemed like no matter what I needed to talk about, he’d lived long enough to understand, even identify in some way.
It’s like he cares. Yeah. That’s it. He genuinely cares. And when he does say something it always bears directly on The Thing. He is able to make things that seem awkward and confusing simpler to understand.
He never comes across as manipulative or condescending. Granger always seems slightly humbled at being allowed to do whatever it is he does. Embarrassed at the attention. Appreciative of the chance to help and encourage somebody else.
He’s also a gentleman and never abrupt unless he needs to be. It suddenly dawned on me he’d be just fine sitting there quietly with me, enjoying each others’ company and sharing a, ah, second or third cup of joe.
Filling my cup back up, I noticed out the window an old Hostess truck in the lot of a closed UPS store across the street. It reminded me of an old milk truck, bringing unbidden a surge of nostalgia. The rusting street veteran’s left front tire was flat; on its side, faded but still prominent, was the picture of a huge Twinkie. The right pane of windshield was broken out, giving the impression the old truck was winking at me as if to say, “Kid, the stories I could tell ya . . .” Curiously, the sight made me even more—what? Morose?
I needed to say something about what was troubling me if only to sort it out in my own mind.
“This isn’t what I expected.” Why do we do that? Wave our hands, point, even do sign language as if the attempt to select and use accurate words is just too much trouble? I’d made a circular flip-flapping gesture with my left hand as if that would remove all confusion about the identity of ‘This’. Probably try smoke signals next.
True to form, Granger sat quietly and waited. He’s training me well.
“Life. My life. This life. It seems like nothing ever comes easy. Challenges seem to trip over each other playing leapfrog to get to me first. I don’t mind the necessity of facing them. That’s not it.” I hesitated again, organizing my thoughts that more and more often resemble those little rackety go-carts the Shriners drive in parades.
“And . . .” I wasn’t sure if I wanted to go there.
“And you’re wondering where is God in all of it?”
Now, how in Sam Hill did he—- “Yeah. I am. I think I’m mad at Him for seeming so uninvolved in my life. I pray for wisdom, guidance and intervention and blessings–and it seems like God’s got His arms just loaded with all these wonderful answers and trips over me, dumping blessings all over in everybody else’s lives! It feels to me an awful lot like God just doesn’t care about me, or even like me very much, you know?”
“I know.” His response was low and matter-of-fact. I almost didn’t catch it. I blinked. Twice.
“Me.” It was my turn to be speechless for a few seconds. I’d never known Granger when he wasn’t positive in outlook. Everything he did was intended to lift and encourage others. I mean, I knew he’d had some life-changing events but I never gave much thought to what they did to him. In him. He seemed like he always had it together. Like he had always had it together.
Granger looked directly at me. “You are my friend. I love you. I believe I need to be vulnerable to you. I believe it would help you.”
Um. Okay . . . “Okay.”
“Prior to 1997 I had always been a very imposing, strongly-built man. I was able to do hard, physical labor. There was very little calling for physical strength I could not do.” He paused for 10 seconds or so for me to catch up. The only Granger I’d known was a slim, 170-pound man whom I knew wore out quickly because of the effects of his repeated 12-round bouts with disease and resulting surgeries.
“Obviously, that all changed. I know you wonder what I do, why I have an office. I’m still an ordained minister. That part never changed. I was an active hospital and ER chaplain. That, too, never changed. I have no physical stamina now to pursue either of those things. Sweating is discouraged because my ability to quickly rehydrate is gone. I’m told I shouldn’t lift heavy things because my bone density is decreasing. There are no energy reserves that allow me to quickly ‘bounce back’ from exhausting labor or long days. Or nights, as chaplains often must do.”
“So-o you’re using all that training and experience to . . .”
Granger nodded. ” . . . to do exactly what I’m doing right now, here, with you. After friends lovingly nagged me, I also began seriously writing, preparing a book telling my story. I am also preparing several volumes of encouraging articles I’ve written across years of battling my personal demons of perfectionism, a critical spirit, depression, resentment, bitterness, rotten attitudes and lonely, desperate fights about faith.”
I just sat there. ‘ Stunned’ would work nicely. Before me was one of the most gentle, kind, considerate individuals I’d ever met. Don’t get me wrong; Granger never had suffered fools gladly or any other way. However, as he saw a person striving to better themselves, he was relentless in cheering them on, believing in them. I was so caught up in my mental seesawing I almost didn’t catch when he continued to speak.
“We tend to assess one another based on what we now see–the current model, the latest modification. What we usually overlook is the long journey that got us here.” He paused and took an appreciative sip of coffee. I was so intent on observing and listening I automatically did, too.
“What is this?” He slightly grinned. “Cubita brand Cuban dark roast. Just ground the beans before you came in.” His easy grin receded as his thoughts reasserted themselves.
“One of my personal demons is a deep, smoldering resentment that always heats to a white-hot laser-guided anger if left unchecked. I knew early on that I needed the Holy Spirit’s help in realizing when that was starting. And then how to relieve that mounting pressure that could take years before I decided on a way to let it off its leash.” Coffee.
“Left to itself, mine is the sort of anger that sits quietly and seethes, nurturing a fine loathing toward the things or persons who caused me to entertain it in the first place.” He noticed my furrowed forehead. As he spoke, he touched the fingers on his left hand as if ticking off salient bullet points of a briefing.
- mad at God for having to grow up alone even though I have four siblings.”
- mad at Him for putting inside me the desire to be uncommon but giving me a perfectionistic personality so afraid of being embarrassed I would never practice anything where anybody could hear or see me.”
- mad at God for seemingly throwing life’s junk in my way at almost every step.”
- mad at God for district superintendents who all seemed to think I thrived on pastoring congregations who hated each other, refused to get along and couldn’t wait to disembowel another pastor.”
- mad at church people who claimed wide-eyed allegiance to God but viciously filleted my wife and children because those people resented me or my leadership style–or weren’t getting their way.”
- mad at God for the seeming untouchable status of church gossips whose unprincipled and amoral tongues have wreaked smoked-earth havoc in good peoples’ lives and helped destroy faith, families and futures.”
- mad at God for our family being very musically talented, yet having their willingness to share that natural ability intentionally misinterpreted as showing off, upstaging church families’ kids who’d been stars until “that pastor’s kids showed up!” It brought back ugly memories of my own teen years; and why I quit writing music.”
- mad at God for allowing disease and near-death into my body that was one of the few things I never had to worry about.” And I was
- mad at God because of the life-, career- and marriage-altering effects my health issues caused.”
Granger stopped and pinned me with his eyes. “Remember, I don’t blow up: I simmer.”
I wasn’t sure what to do with that so I swallowed. I remembered he had been some other things, both military and civilian, prior to entering the ministry. For just a second or two I saw in his eyes something that made me hesitant to ever earn his ire. He waited, silent, while I considered what he’d just revealed about himself.
“You didn’t overcome that anger overnight. That’s what you’re telling me.” He slowly nodded.
“God has been slowly, patiently drawing off all the poisoned feelings and hard-shelled, jaded cynicism that had grown up in my soul. It was like a honeysuckle vine I once tore away from a young tree. What I thought was a healthy, fragrant, green tree was actually the skeleton of an almost-dead tree that had been so overgrown by the vine it looked like a strong, vibrant tree.” He paused again, waiting. I sort of hate it when he does that. It usually forces me to learn things I’m not so sure I want to know. Need to. Don’t want to.
“So you’re saying that all those things, those bullet points about where you thought God was ignoring you, have all been His way of slowly shaping you for—-what? This? But He had to help you get beyond the mad part, beyond the resentment and bitterness, so you could be free to do what you’re now doing a lot better?”
For the first time since I’d known him, Granger had huge tears running down his cheeks. There was a broken tremolo in his voice as he said yes.
“Thank you for listening to me and for your wise counsel.” Wise counsel? All I did was—
“I needed to open my heart and God brought you here today for that purpose. I want to be angry about the right things, things that make God angry. But I don’t want my anger to needlessly wound or hurt others based on experiences in my past. Before you go, would you pray for me as I continue letting the Holy Spirit facet and polish my life in the ways I just spoke about?”
How could I not? I managed to blubber my way through a more-or-less coherent prayer. As I finished, there was an awe-demanding Presence in the room. As I quietly let myself out the door, I heard Granger blowing his nose and taking a sip of coffee.
I was right. That’s not just an office . . .
I was several blocks away, almost to my own workplace when it hit me what had just happened. This man who had spent long years studying people and things had reversed roles on me without my realizing it. This guy who’d counseled countless others, praying with them and loving them through myriad strange, even horrendous experiences had just shown me the most vital lesson of my life. He also showed me why he is such an unforgettable character. Thank you, Reader’s Digest.
He is unafraid to sit at the feet of anybody willing to teach him something worth knowing. And that is why he keeps growing, and why he stays relevant regardless of age, health or vitality.
And that, 2nd Cup friend, is your challenge for the week. Granger’s not the only one whose journey has been long and rigorous, coloring the commentary of his story. Everyone you meet is the same way.
The quieter and softer they seem, the deeper are their experiences and more grievous the scars from past wounds. The more garrulous and happy they seem, the more sobering paths they’ve followed in life, forming and shaping them. Some of the lessons are negative and some are positive. Some you’ll remember and want to emulate. Others you’d rather stay away from than eat live squid. But one thing is sure.
Every one of them will have something to teach you . . .
. . . if you are willing to learn.
I do love you and I do believe in you,
(c) April 2013