dry-bush-jan2017

Today, Jan 6, is the Feast of Epiphany.

In our household growing up, it marked the day when my mother thought it time to take down the Christmas decorations. It felt like an appropriate day. Christmas, after all, had occurred almost two weeks before. It had long come and gone, or so it seemed. Besides, the initial excitement of putting up the tree was beginning to feel old.  We’d read through all the cards two or three times and were ready to toss them into the recycling bin. It wasn’t until years later when I thought to ask Mum why we shut down Christmas on the 6th that she explained that’s when the Magi were supposed to have reached Bethlehem.

As I was re-reading that familiar story this morning, I was struck by the image of these wise men journeying from distant lands, mapping their movements to a place they weren’t sure of, by following a star. I was struck by the fact that they had been on the lookout for that star; otherwise they might not have seen it. In fact, if they hadn’t been on alert, the star would have appeared and they would have missed it. That would have ultimately meant they would have missed the defining event of history up to that time. They would have not seen Jesus, and Mary and Joseph. They would have forfeited the joy and worship this experience brought them. They would have not had the opportunity to travel home by a different route, guided this time by wisdom given through a dream. Their lives would not have been transformed as surely they must’ve been.

As this new year begins, I’m contemplating what the stars in my life might be and where they are to be found. Am I on alert? Am I looking for them? Am I looking in the “right” places? Am I willing to wait until they are revealed? Am I anticipating finding them? And am I ready to act once I recognize them? Am I ready to leave what feels safe and known to take risks to unfamiliar places in the hopes of being changed?

The story of the Magi suggests that signs and wonders do appear, but in the least likely of and places, and probably in ways we don’t expect.

An epiphany (or two) awaits.

I pray I’ll recognize the signs, in amongst the ordinary, and have the courage to venture into the unknown –with joy and expectation.

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cherie color 14feb2016Yesterday, I took my friend Cherie to lunch at the local diner. I first met Cherie 3 or 4 years ago when she began to appear on the benches in the mezzanine level of my subway station. One morning I sat down beside her and instead of dropping a dollar into her palm, I decided to offer her a conversation. Over a few weeks, we became “subway buddies.” She’d comment on my clothes, I’d ask how she was doing, and from time to time, I offered her food I was carrying — until one day after leaving her with the remains of my (very spicy) Thai dinner, she let me know very defiantly that she no longer wanted my leftover food. Fair enough. From then on, I occasionally gave her money but mostly just smiled, chatted, and even shook her hand at times, being mindful that folks with no home rarely experience physical touch. Cherie tends to disappear in the spring, summer, and fall, and several winters ago, she dropped out of sight all together. Late last year, she re-appeared, in the same spot where I first met her.

Recently I began to think about trying to get to know her a bit better by having a meal with her. On Saturday night, as I was heading out for the evening, I gave her $5 and encouraged her to get some soup. It was the coldest day of the year and I was concerned for her, and wondered what she planned to do to keep warm in the sub terrain of the station. I should have known better. The hot soup idea seemed intriguing but I could tell she had no intention of going to a diner. And since she had nowhere else to go, she planned to stay right there on her bench. I shuddered thinking about that, but as I ran for my train, I decided that if she was there when I came home from church the next day, I’d invite her to lunch.

When I asked her, she immediately shot back, “What’s the occasion?” Without hesitating, I said, “It’s Valentine’s Day.” She put her just-lit cigarette out, grabbed her bag, and declared, “OK, let’s go.”

We settled ourselves into a corner table @ the Hudson View Diner. She chose french toast, scrambled eggs, bacon and cheese. I had a farmer’s omelette with home fries. At first I asked her questions about her family and learned a few interesting facts: she was born in Cypress Hills, Queens, the 4th of 8 children; she doesn’t get along with her mother who now lives in East New York; her father’s birthday is Feb 15 (today); and she has a 37-year-old son who has a restaurant in Harlem which we talked about going to check out. “On me,” she insisted, “On me.” But she didn’t seem to want to continue making conversation so I stopped the questions and we ate the rest of our meal in silence.

When she was done, she looked around and said, “It’s really cozy in here. If I had a job and worked in here, it’s so cozy, I’d just want to go to sleep.” We laughed about that. She also thanked me heartily for lunch. After she’d ordered a second cup of coffee – as much to warm her up as to heat up her hands I suspect – we headed back out into the frigid afternoon. She tried unsuccessfully at two stores to buy loose filter cigarettes (“lucies”), and then I walked down back into the subway with her. She was heading to 42nd street to take care of something there — I couldn’t quite catch what and gave up after asking her 3 times. As I swiped her in, she slid up toward the turnstile, turned and kissed me (!), and then hurried off to catch her train.

Still stunned by her affection, I walked 10 brisk blocks home, musing about my most unexpected valentine’s day gift…

Today, on account of the blizzard pummeling the east coast of the US, the city which never sleeps has ground to a standstill — and that includes Broadway. Yes, all matinees and evening performances were cancelled earlier today. The hope is that by tomorrow afternoon, the storm will have blown away, and the city will re-awaken, the subways and buses will begin to move again, in time for Sunday’s matinees.

But in the meantime, here’s a touching Broadway story…

Last Weds night, a group of us from our midtown office decided to walk over to the Richard Rogers Theater to try our luck in the popular lottery for a front row seat to the performance of Hamilton that night. (We were hopeful. After all, a work friend had won front row tickets to the show the previous evening (!), and several others from the office had been lottery winners too. Apparently, their success is not unconnected to how one folds their ticket, it seems, but that’s a story for a different blog post.) As I put on my coat, a friend and colleague, Jess, was heading out, and she, being a lover of all things Hamilton – she’s memorized all the words to the soundtrack – decided to stop by with us on her way home. We joined 300+ other hopefuls, wrote our names on a piece of paper, tried to fold them in that special way, flung them into the basket, and waited on a crowded sidewalk in the winter cold.

The first name was called and cheers went up as that person dashed through the crowd and up to the front to present their ID, hand over their cash ($10/tkt, 2 max), and pick up their tickets. The second name was called and there was more yelling – and this time some groans too. Then the third name was called – and as God would have it – it was our friend, Jess! She blushed with disbelief, her eyes got tearful and then she scurried off to claim her tickets.

The show was in two hours and with three young kids at home, she had some juggling to do: she texted her babysitter and asked her to stay later that evening and then rushed home. Together they got the two youngest kids (4 1/2 & 2) into their pajamas and ready for bed after dinner. With C, her oldest @ 7, since she was having a special night out with Mom, she got to put on a pretty dress.

When the others were settled and in bed, Mom took C into the hallway and told her they were going to Hamilton. At first C couldn’t believe it. When she realized that it was really true, she started dancing and jumping up and down saying, “Nobody loves Hamilton more than I do!”

The show did not disappoint. They were in the front center – and C was given a booster seat so she could have a perfect view of the stage. She sat up, alert and awake, through every scene and rap.

By the end of the evening, both C and Jess were overwhelmed with tears. During the closing ovation, Lin-Manuel Miranda looked right at them, winked, and patted his heart. They were beyond ecstatic.

The next day, Jess couldn’t stop talking about their spectacular evening. I was both thrilled and envious. When she’d dropped C off at school, after letting her sleep in, C’s teachers told her how jealous they were too. Still on a high, Jess decided to tweet Miranda to thank him for such a special treat. And this was his response:

lin manuel tweet jan2016 cropped #2

How’s that for a sweet down-to-earth Broadway response: a 7 year old winking back at a star!

pale roseThis week I had the privilege of visiting a leader of one of our community groups who’s become a friend. In the last several months, she’s taken a hiatus from her group because she’s become the mother of a sweet little girl called Hannah!

Hannah is a miracle birth.  Her parents married later in life and had been trying for 6 years to have a baby.  C was past her mid-40s and it just didn’t seem like it was going to happen for them. They had resisted any sort of medical intervention, trusting that if a child was something God wanted for them, he’d create it.

Well, He did.

Hannah will be 13 weeks old tomorrow. She seems so much older already – self-contained and observant – like an old soul. When I arrived, she was asleep in the bedroom while her mother and I sat and talked in the living room.  After some time,when Hannah stirred, C went to get her. She brought her out in her “bouncy”, where she’d been sleeping, and sat her down beside us. We continued chatting. Hannah just looked around, as if she was listening, smiling when we smiled at her, but she seemed content to be left alone. I was amazed. Hannah did eventually start fussing when she realized she was hungry. That was my cue to leave.

The following day, C told me Hannah had been looking at the yellow roses I brought and enjoying their smell too – a new learning experience for her.

What a beautiful gift to see this mother and child delighting in one another, embarking on a new life together, filled with all kinds of possibilities.

A glimpse of God’s goodness.