I can’t ever say that kissing him before was painful.
I mean, nothing about him ever scratched abrasive and rough, nothing like the grit side of an unused emory board, the backside of a knot of burrs.
The man just grabbed me around the waist and most days the warm side of him feels only like a few days growth, like he’d be tough enough to drive those whiskers right in and gnaw them off on the inside.
Something about a man for the fields, for the underside of a truck, for the bare nape of a woman’s neck bent there at the stove, for nothing too buttoned up formal.
But a wild bushman beard? Facial hair that grew up the side of the face like a bear, like a beast, like a burly man? What makes a man stand shoulder to shoulder with another and call him brother?
He says he wants to grow the beard for Ted.
“How can you be 55 and have prostate cancer? And Ted, he’d do anything for anybody. How many years has the man spent his Sunday afternoons driving hours up to the prison to share the gospel with guys up there the rest of the world would rather forget about?” I nod yes, of course, throw out the razor and join the men and do it.
It isn’t easy for a shy man. I find it later on the screen, how he’d googled Movember and how to best shape a ‘stache. I love him for it.
The men all line up at the front of the sanctuary and smile silly and send the snapshot of their scruffy mugs to Ted as he lies under thin cotton sheets and heals.
The Farmer doesn’t love it when the red corn dust gets caught in it or doing up barn chores and feeling the mealy feed chop trapped in it. When he comes in from the shop, he washes his face up again — he says it feels greasy. Clumps of hairy men stand around after the Sunday preaching and compare growth. He mutters it getting into bed: “You just try not shaving your legs for a month and see how that feels.”
“Oh, but I have!” I have no shame. “I’m a farm girl from Canada — I spend half the year in long johns.”
I nudge him into this half surrendered grin and the backwoods man tussles me close: “You daring me to kiss you, huh, huh?”
And I laugh loud and long and I love him for it, him loving me and doing it for Ted. All of life is messy. And there are no islands in the Kingdom of God. And what we think of outsides doesn’t matter like what we love of insides…
Then the last Sunday in November, Ted’s well enough to come out.
And the men all stand at the front of the sanctuary, the farmers and the missionaries, the truck drivers and accountants. Jack Werner is 18. Bill Shore is 77. One has a white ‘stache and the other, a blonde goatee and one’s standing at one end and one at the other and all these men in between being knees and arms for Ted. Jonathan Moore points out balding Bob Purcell with his dark mo and says that Bob’s wife, Sue, has been calling him Tom Selleck. Bob blushes and the congregation chuckles and white-haired Sue, she cheers.
And the pastor offers, “I got my best compliment of the month on Friday night when a few of us, we went down to the city to see a hockey game.”
It was the pastor, the youth pastor, the national director of a global mission organization, the Sunday School Superintendent, a church elder and the Farmer.
“As we were walking toward the arena, I was the last one past this bus stop.” The Pastor unconsciously smoothes out his moustache, like he’s pressing it all out. “And as all of the guys here from the chapel passed by, I hear one of the teens nudge his buddy, “Whoa. Look at these guys. Looks like we’ve got —- wait for it —- a bunch of narcs.”
My mama laughs too loud and Mrs. Martin shakes her head and a bunch of country Bible preachers with their sideburns and whiskers looking like narcotic agents?
And Ted’s laughing too, Ted brave and young and old and hunching a bit at 5 foot 6.
His cheek look gaunt and hollowed and his eyes look strong and certain and cancer can stalk a man but nothing can steal your joy unless you hand it over. Jonathan Moore hands Ted the microphone.
“It’s been a hard year.” Ted’s voice trembles just a bit. I look down at the floor. “Marilyn’s brother died there in the spring,” he nods toward his wife, “and Jeremy had that crazy car crash.” I glance over at Marilyn. Hasn’t she taught Bible club for 20 years?
And Ted and Marilyn, they never stop loving for a moment, love’s always this willingness to suffer.
“Then this fall, the doctor tells me I have a cancer.” And I’m nodding and brimming and how does one small man keep standing large when the pounding surf just keeps slamming on? When the chemo makes you sick and the pain of living makes you hurt and the days make you ache just a bit? How does one family keep standing when it all keeps beating hard the kids break your heart and the bills keep stacking and your weary of climbing straight up hill? How long, oh, Lord, how long? How does Ted still smile? And he turns to the men all standing behind him.
“But you guys?” Ted’s voice cracks a bit. “You guys standing with us when it is hard. The visits and meals and prayers.” He’s choking it out.
“And all your beards and ‘staches and solidarity — that you’d care enough, like this?” The tough looking guys on the on the platform, they’re cracking a bit too, and Ted, he can’t say what everyone’s feeling, but he gets out this.
“I just can’t thank you enough.”
And there it was — what that French friend told me I of Thanksgiving and how it translates in French.
That Thanksgiving in French is action de grace.
Action de grace.
Ted’s thanking these men who went unshaven for him, men who are standing like real men around the Lord’s Table and the memory of Him giving thanks and breaking His body and being shorn for them and I’m thinking Action de grace and how do we love those who are finding it hard to live?
Do this in remembrance of me.
When grace rescues you, then giving thanks is the responding action.
When grace delivers you, then action defines you.
When grace takes you in right where you are, then you act out your gratitude wherever you are. 365 days of the year.
Random acts of kindness is the action plan of God’s people.
Thanksgiving is action de grace in French — and after Thanksgiving comes Christmas and after grace comes action, and we don’t occasionally give thanks to feel good but we live thanks to routinely do good.
The men stand with Ted. We stand with the hurting and the hurting don’t stand alone and our thanks is the kind that finds ways to give.
We break bread. We remember and taste and become the grace of Christ.
Ted whispers it to a man at the door — Thanks again.
And that night, the Farmer brushes with this kiss in the light of the Christmas tree, Christmas coming after Thanksgiving.
This thanksgiving that never ends, this touching of each other’s rough places with tender actions of grace.
and counting more of the One Thousand Gifts that never end… thanks for Christ who says to give thanks, to do this in remembrance of me: #4618 – #4628:
his beard … Why Gratitude isn’t just for Thanksgiving … young men standing with old men… Ted and a church family who makes their thanks give… boys who say their Dad looks great and girls who giggle over whisker rubs… this for just one day … and this … my mama and I sitting together quiet, not need words… spaghetti squash with meat sauce and candle light … finding one last bag of a favorite tea and pouring out a few cups to share… that every day might can be action of grace.
Join us? And happily change everything by keeping your own crazy list of One Thousand Gifts?
Please, jump in, make your life about giving thanks to God! — Just add the direct URL to your specific 1000 gift list post… and if you join us, we humbly ask that you please help us find each other in our refrain of thanks by sharing the community’s graphic within your post.
Give thanks to the Lord! His Love Endures Forever!
*Names all changed & photo credit