crunch. crunch. crunch. the sound of my slippery-bottomed dress shoes as i trudged through the snow on my way home from church. i was looking down at the snow, at first so i wouldn't slip, but then because i noticed the footprints of all three of my sons alongside Shannon's. i could see where they had stepped, both on their way to church, and home again, some steps obscured by others, bearing witness to the traveling circus that is our family. but the shape and direction of each little print revealed its maker.
three little boys. following their mother. through the snow. in their dress shoes.
it's enough to make a dad cry. and it was certainly enough to make this dad think. where will these footsteps lead? at the moment, they were leading me home from church, where those three precious boys and their mother would likely be sorting laundry, getting lunch ready, and already making preparations for the afternoon's soccer game and monday's return to school. and so in just a few hours these footsteps would fill soccer fields and school buses. what then? the possibilities are at once stunning and terrifying. field trips...doctors' offices...school dances...concerts and colleges...and still they will step on. to the country? to the city? off to war? down the aisle? there are so many steps to take, even as the shape of their prints grow longer and deeper.
and as i continued to sludge through the snow, bracing against the icy wind, i couldn't help but wonder: wherever their feet lead them, will they still be stepping to and from some sanctuary? will they always find it worthwhile to walk, even through the snow if necessary, to worship with others? in a cultural climate where the word "church" wound more and more like something you read about in a history book or buy at an antique store, will these little footprints someday become bigger ones on this same path? can i truly teach them what i believe? that there is no substitute for gathering together with other Christ-followers, as bruised and broken as we are, for the sake of helping one another to pull back the curtain, even if just for a moment, so we can remember what really matters.
oh, believe me, i've seen how the church can be a rotten failure. and i've been a part of it, in spite of myself. i have always seen how tempting it can be for us to turn the church into a refuge for escape rather than an opportunity to invite. for many, it is a place to build walls to keep out, instead of opening up new ways of getting in. i am reminded of something brennan manning wrote or said once (i have forgotten where), "you go to church, while the world goes to hell." sometimes that is very true. that kind of insular, comfort-seeking, tradition-worshipping, rapture-ready "church"-going is sickening at best, and, more accurately, the kind of religion that Jesus was table-flipping fired up about. i really wouldn't care if my children ever stepped foot in such a place.
but it doesn't have to be that way. it was never supposed to be that way. church is a place where sinners and saints gather together, and each owns the truth of the other in themselves, even if they rarely show it anywhere else. it is a place where we remember that the rain falls on all of us the same, and that the rain is called grace. it is a place where we say and hear the words until something like Spirit shows up and points us to the Word, a capital kind of movement, like a mysterious finger in the sand, an etching on the heart, saying something like, "neither do i condemn you," or, "nothing can separate you from my love. nothing." it is a place we trudge to, through the detritus of our days, because once we are there, we rediscover mystery. and magic. and meaning.
that's something worth walking to.
as i neared my home, i saw a stretch of my own footprints in the snow, facing the other way - pointing towards church - and inside each one was a smaller one, harder to see, because the snow had already been compressed, but visible nonetheless. this went on for several strides, and i could see that one of my children had been making the effort to jump from foot to foot, staying in dad's footprints. and i could only pray that god would help me lead them to places of life and love; that they would learn the importance of wearing out a well-worn path to worship, and that, wherever their feet take them, they would continue to step out in faith and hope in the One who walks with them.
i wrote the above a couple of weeks ago. yesterday, as i was going through the registrations from sunday morning, i found this picture, and it was as if God was somehow answering my prayer, letting me know that i am blazing a good trail, and, despite my complete and utter failures at times, my children are following and learning and growing and walking with me. i am so blessed.