I’m just a bit of a “sentimentalist.” Meaning that if it means something to me, I’m bound to keep it close to me. For instance, I’m drinking my coffee this morning out of cup that my Mother gave to me for Valentine’s Day back when I was in high school. It has a cartoon pig on it with the words “Pig of my heart, I love you so.” We had hogs on our farm at the time so it seemed appropriate. That coffee cup has successfully moved with me eight different times over the course of twenty-nine years. My Mom gave it to me and it’s a touchstone to my past and her love for me throughout my life, regardless of that cartoon pig on it.
I’m like that….I keep “things” around me that remind me of important feelings. One of the most recent additions is one of the shell casings from the gun salute from my Dad’s funeral. Dreary winter day, cold damp wind whistling across the open hills of a country cemetery, all of us huddled together under the awning next to Dad’s casket as the bugle played Taps. The shots from their rifles cracked through the coldness of that morn like a hammer hitting a nail, echoing through the hills. I had “held it together” up until that point but the sound of those rifles firing was the tipping point of my emotions. I openly wept, something that I don’t do.
I kept one of those shell casings. I’m glad that I have it. It reminds me of Dad and his love of this country and his family. Touchstones do that, and I have many situated around the house and garage. They’re important to me.
In February of 2009 I was invited to attend a Christian men’s retreat called “A Walk to Emmaus.” I, like most guys, went begrudgingly…not wanting to give up three days of my spare time to a religion-related event. I left that retreat on fire for the Lord. Since that time I’ve helped out on four different “Walk’s” as they’re called, always in the conference room where I have always given a small sermon, like many of the other helpers have. I’ve been blessed with the gift of gab and a strange sense of humor that I’ve incorporated that into my Talks. Thank God the Spirit speaks through me and touches the listener’s funny bones and hearts alike. I enjoy the whole retreat immensely.
Last Thursday night when the new attendee’s were arriving (guys that had never attended a Walk) a guy approached me and told me that he knew me from somewhere. Truth be told, I get this a lot. After going through a couple of places that he might have known me from he stepped back, pointed a finger at me and raised his voice and exclaimed “YOU’RE THAT REF!!” As it turns out my last game of the season I worked a varsity boy’s game that one of his sons played in. I remembered his son and we had a nice conversation. Also…he was dropping off his older son that night so that he could attend the Walk to Emmaus and as it turned out, that son just happened to be my only roommate for the three days. Small world heh?
The young man that was my roommate was wrestling with the idea of becoming a minister. At the age of twenty he had worked a couple of different jobs but his heart was sold on becoming a pastor. He was bold and committed to the idea of serving the Lord in whatever capacity. He was also assigned to the small group that I and another man were leading. I was around this young man a great deal of the time during those three days.
When I attended my original Walk five years ago I received a small cross on a necklace. It had been prayed over by my sponsors and a great deal of other people who took it upon themselves to pray for me, a total stranger to them. Each new attendee, Pilgrims as they’re referred to, receives a cross just like the one that I received, that has been held and prayed over by loved ones. I really liked my cross and wore it. It was my touchstone to that Walk, my fellow Christians and most importantly…my Lord.
A few months after my original Walk I was asked if I wanted to help out at an upcoming Walk. I jumped at the chance to help out and be a part of lifting others up to the Lord. As we gathered for a pre-Walk meal it was announced that the box containing the Pilgrims crosses and necklaces was missing and would we mind loaning our crosses to the incoming Pilgrims. I gladly gave up my Cross if it meant that a Pilgrim would have a Cross of their own and hopefully a meaningful Walk. It was explained to us that we would receive replacement crosses as soon as possible. “As soon as possible” for me took a couple of months and several e-mails to the people in charge before I got my replacement cross in the mail.
It wasn’t what I expected.
Firstly, it was different. Instead of the heavy metal cross of my original Walk it was a lightweight wood. I liked the heaviness of my original cross as it symbolized the weight that was lifted from me, the weight of sin now washed away by Jesus blood. I liked the fact that it had been held in my loved ones hands and was prayed over specifically for me. I liked those touchstones.
My new cross didn’t have those. It was lightweight wood. It was mailed to me in a manila envelope, no letter, no note. My first Cross was a gift, my second cross I had to ask for, several times. My second cross didn’t mean anything to me. No touchstone.
During the last day of this past Walk, Sunday, I was fighting a head cold that had cropped up. As much as I love working on these Walk of Emmaus weekends I don’t sleep well. I was tired. I was sick. I missed my family. As the Walk wrapped up and the pilgrims were given their crosses I put my second cross around my neck and headed into the closing service. Somehow the young man and I were seated together again. He noticed my cross was different than his cross and wanted to know if I wanted to trade with him. I told him “your Cross was prayed over by your family, its special…its specific to you. My cross is a replacement cross that wasn’t prayed over. You need to keep your Cross.” With that he reached over and took my cross and held it between his thumb and index finger and began praying. It took me a couplea seconds to realize what he was doing. I couldn’t hear him; I only saw his lips move. He finished with “amen” and released my Cross and it hit me in the chest….this time heavier than any time before. My second cross was now “my Cross.”
What did it take for that replacement cross to become my Cross? It took me being called into sub for another referee at a basketball game that I wasn’t supposed to work, in front of a man that I’d never met who has a son who is bold in his Christian beliefs who attended a Walk to Emmaus weekend that I was called to help out at a short time before it began to room with and share the weekend with this young man who heard my casual remark about the meaningless cross around my neck who prayed over it in the waning hour of that weekend who helped make that meaningless cross into a powerful touchstone for me.
It symbolizes to me that God works on His time schedule not mine, and that the selfless act that I did five years ago was returned this weekend by Garrett. It reminds me of the countless selfless, grace-filled acts Christ did and still does for me and how I’m called to emulate that selfless love day in and day out.
It is a touchstone.