Tiptoe......................peeking through the gate

Christmas in Summer



           If life-altering events announced themselves with drum rolls and trumpets, we'd all pay attention. But they don’t. So, twenty years ago, when Ross noticed I was drooping and said, “Eve, you need a break. Let me take the kids up north for the weekend,” I had no inkling the next few days would reach into our future twenty years ahead and give it shape.

           That Friday morning, we loaded up the van, maneuvering around the large bookcases I was painting in the garage, and I waved goodbye to Ross and my three active tow-heads. Edmund was probably pinching Susan's thigh as they drove away, and Peter might have been complaining about the broken air conditioner, but...Happy day! Not my problem! I could sleep late, eat what I wanted or not eat at all, read a book, hear myself think….Then the phone rang. That’s when I should have heard fanfare. Instead, I heard a plain old ring.

            “Hi, Eve!” Meg sounded perky as ever. “I was wondering if you could help me out.”

            “What’s up,” I asked, immediately wary. Meg has the energy of a whole football team.

            “Well, I have a house full of company, kids sleeping on the floor, and some people we met in Texas a few years back just pulled up in their van with their four kids and asked if they could spend a few days with us. I haven't had time to hear the story, and I'd take them, but we're out of beds...”

             My thoughts were not charitable. Who would just pull up in a van from Texas unannounced and expect housing? Why should I take in people I’ve never met? Ross didn't have this in mind when he took the kids by himself so I could rest!

             Still, Meg would do anything for me. So, I compromised: yes to the adults; no to the kids. Meg could step over four more bodies on her way to the kitchen in the morning and probably laugh about it.

             Chad and Fritha arrived after lunch, looking dazed, even numb. Something was awfully wrong. I motioned to the chairs in the family room, offered some drinks and we sat down. Three hours later we stood up. In between, I heard chapter 1 of their strange odyssey. They had been hippies back in the 60's, idealistic, dreamy, dissatisfied,  trying to find their way in all the wrong places. (They still looked like hippies, at least around the edges. Something about the thick sandals, worn jeans and wooden crosses.)

            Jesus rescued the two of them in California during the Jesus Movement. Charged by his love, they started a Christian outreach to drug addicts in Texas. A benefactor donated the use of an older house, and they stripped off several layers of paint on the front door to free the rich mahogany underneath. With plaster and scrub brushes and long hours, they turned the house into a home and opened their arms to the Messed Up.

             We stopped for dinner, then came chapter 2. The ministry began to flourish as broken people found their way through the gleaming front door and encountered the life-giving love of Jesus. Twenty-four year-old Fred gave up drugs and started college; Anne stayed for a year then returned home to make peace with her parents (she had left home at 15 in rebellion and headed straight for San Francisco, where she lost her virginity to a much older man and her mind to drugs). We stopped there and headed for bed.

              Breakfast Saturday morning: Chad and Fritha said they had slept well for the first time since leaving Texas. We moved on to chapter 3. All was well for years until Mr. Someone became jealous of their work and busied himself by spreading rumors about them. Mr. S was very close to the ministry and Chad and Fritha felt he was eyeing them malignantly. They shrank from defending themselves, feeling it was un-Christ-like. Anyway, there was no practical way to stop it. They didn't know who Mr. S was talking to or what he was saying. They only knew that a wildfire of gossip was roaring through their Texas community. After some tears, prayer, and words from the Bible, we broke for lunch.

             Chapter 4. The jealousy now out of control, Mr. S saw his chance to drive them out of the home they created for people they loved.  He would go to the Board of Directors with the evidence and persuade them to remove the pair from leadership. He would do this by attributing motives where there were none; by putting his own twist on their actions and words. (More tears and prayers.)

             Dinner and the conclusion of the matter. Mr. S made his case, bolstered by a community that had heard only his story. The Board voted. Chad and Fritha were removed from leadership and asked to leave immediately. Poof! In one day, they were out on the street, and all they possessed in the world was their clothes and an old van. Said Chad: "I don't know why, but the one thing I keep thinking about after all this horror is the hours I spent stripping off paint, trying to restore the front door." The front door through which so many broken hearts had entered, and so many healed hearts had left.

              It was Sunday morning, and I only had time for one more chapter before we both needed to leave. What had happened since? I wanted to know. "Well," Fritha said, "it's been rather amazing." We just started driving, and we've been asking God to give us what we need all along the way. And he has! People have handed us money or paid for a meal for us. One time the kids wanted to go to an amusement park, and we took them just to look. The guard at the gate called Chad over and whispered to him, ’Just take those kids in for free’." And what had happened to the ministry? Chad looked pained. "Mr. S was put in as director," he said. "I worry." We were through. Chad and Fritha and their children got in the van and drove away on their strange mission to find God’s plan, and Ross returned that afternoon with the children.

             They'd all had a great time at the lake, frolicking with cousins, eating the ice cream and cookies Nana always offered. Edmund had a cold, so he fell asleep and didn't pinch anybody on the way home. Peter had collected a jar full of green sea glass, and Susan had a new bathing suit.  To my surprise, I was not worn out by my weekend. There was a sense of rightness about what had happened. As though it was ordained, and enough grace to cover it all had been poured out on us.

              Months later, a letter came from Chad. It said (in part), "We could never find words to express the comfort of being able to talk about our pain with someone who cared. Those three days last summer were a turning point for Fritha and me, a stepping out of our darkness and into our long-term healing. Thank you is too weak a word."

              That weekend has stayed with me for 20 years, a sort of signpost pointing to a future time when Ross and I would do something similar. (I should mention that Ross is an excellent listener.) Years ago, before I knew we would have a large farmhouse in the Carolinas, God gave me the words: Christmas in Summer. I took it to mean the Father envisioned a future ministry in a southern climate where we would celebrate Christmas with those who came. Now we have Eden's Gate. May we keep the spirit of Christmas there, where "tidings of comfort and joy" reign because of the Father's love. We believe he will send to our farmhouse the lambs of his choosing and we are on tiptoe waiting to meet them on the veranda and usher them through our heavy front door. 

               The adventure is right on us. Today was our last Sunday in a church that is family to us. Tomorrow Peter and Edmund pack the truck, Tuesday Joy and Cheryl come to help clean, and Elizabeth will bring dinner. Then, it is off into the great unknown, the future already planned but not yet revealed. Pray for us!