Been praying this week for Amber and Seth Haines and their little Titus. I’ve been memorizing Sermon on the Mount, all of Matthew 5-7, with these earnest folks (and a whole community of memorizers!), and God’s got us on a journey. Seth, a lawyer, a mighty fine writer, good husband and praying father to four future men — he guest posts here with a few needful words in these part this morning:
It was a warm west-Tennessee day.
The humidity beaded on my brow, so I pulled the ball cap from my head and wiped away the sweat. There was a row of green pole beans laced with purple striations. I was in Stratham’s field.
“Which ones do I pick, Strat?”
Stratham held his thumb and forefinger at a span of about three inches. “Ye big or so, but if you get ‘em a bit smaller I reckon it don’t matter much,” he said. “My lady likes younger beans, more tender. But the way I see it, a meatier bean is more filling.”
Strat grabbed the handle of his five-gallon bucket and started down the row behind me. Each row was thirty feet long with trellising made of six-foot iron t-posts strung with rusty double loop wire. The rows formed a sort of faux wall allowing both the allusion of privacy and the intimacy of conversation.
It was a verdant confessional booth.
Stratham and I worked in silence for a few minutes, and I felt words gathering in him like a slow southern storm in late August. Finally he broke.
“Last week Brother Smith brought the lesson at church. It was Father’s day.” Strat stopped abruptly and I could hear thrashing in the beans behind me.
“Daggum Japanese beetles!” he exclaimed as he shooed them with an old handkerchief. He continued. “Smith said that family ought to see a man less for what he is, and more for what the man wants to be. Said that’s called grace. I reckon he’s right.“
I found my own covey of Japanese Beetles mating under the shade of the rattlesnake bean leaves. I gathered two between my fingers and squished them.
“I’ve done some things that don’t make me proud,” he said flatly.
He didn’t expound, but I knew Stratham’s story. Knew there’d been things that’d shamed his wife and family. “I’ve moved on,” Stratham said, “and I hope some of folks have grace enough to see that.”
I grabbed a young bean from the vine and ate it raw. Strat continued with his bean field confessional.
“When I was young, I went to church three times a week and memorized all the right passages. I learned apologetics and the art of doctrinal debate. I went to a Christian school, married my Christian sweetheart, and started my Christian family in the church. I judged a good deal, divided doctrines mercilessly.”
Stratham sighed heavy and said, “I know I gave you a real hard time early on.”
“It’s okay, Strat,” I said. Truth was, we hadn’t talked about our doctrinal differences in years. Not since his fall from grace. Not since he was marked with the tenderness of the penitent.
I heard Strat’s knees creak as he squatted to pick the lower beans.
“Once you fall apart, things just look different, I guess. We all need folks who see the ‘could be’ or the ‘want to’ in us. We all need grace. We all need Jesus, friend of harlots. And I want to be that kind of friend, too.”
I heard the hollow thud of Strat’s bucket being set on an old cinder block, and I knew Strat had exhausted the conversation.
He’d purposed this for some time, I thought; now he’d said his piece and that was that. I heard Stratham wrestling a bit with the earth behind me, heard a root system come loose.
“Found a young vine that never made it,” he said. “Sometimes it’s hard to figure what stunts growth, but I think this one’s had its roots choked out by some gypsum weed.” I thought of the old parables, how new parables were scattered all across these bean fields.
I thought of dying seeds, the wheat and the tares, the prodigal son. I thought of Stratham, how he met Jesus at the business end of grace.
I picked a large bean and examined the purple striations down its belly. “I like the look of these beans,” I said.
“The markings give it character.”
Stratham didn’t respond, but instead muttered about them one last time under his breath.
It was a warm west-Tennessee day. I was in Stratham’s field.
And he was the harvest.