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Alabama at Midnight

I crossed the Tennessee River at precisely 12:30am. I know this because I happened to glance at the green-glowing dashboard clock while the waters sneaked along dark and cavernous beneath the airborne pavement at that very moment. The river barely revealed its broad image in those late hours, but the moon’s astral glow made the river’s presence below the bridge visible, even if only in my mind’s eye. A small array of clouds funneled overhead, their horizon-long tendrils colored mock-orange, no doubt from the lights of nearby Huntsville, and they snubbed their proverbial noses at the clarity of night.

I drove away from Birmingham after saying goodbye to some old and new friends at a surprisingly well-attended show at the church Danielle and I worshiped at during our six-year stay in the Magic City. Once meeting in a warehouse (not the cool, red brick-laden kind; imagine the drab, boring office variety), the church bought Birmingham’s only combination ice-skating rink/indoor soccer facility a couple of years ago and has slowly converted it into a surprisingly cozy, hospitable, high-ceilinged affair. Lovely and inviting with its earth tones, stained concrete floors, well-worn antique sanctuary doors, and non-traditional soft lighting, the building has a new life of its own. I was glad to see familiar faces again. I managed to remember a few names, which spared me from embarrassment. It is a good thing my old man tendencies don’t always emerge victorious.

I fear that I say some very odd, nay, clumsy things from stage. I managed to fumble my way through my ill-thought-out set list, all the while hoping against hope that the words on my heart would translate from my lips clearly and humbly. On the drive down to Alabama I had hoped to communicate with my gracious (and patient) audience by being openly honest and upfront with them about my recent personal grappling(s) with God. I remember trying to equate my present story with that of Jacob’s ancient one. Instead, I’m fairly certain that I came off like a clueless child uttering words he knows nothing about. I felt like I was another son of Laughter, only wanting. Folks were nice afterwards anyway. One of the most frustrating and perplexing things about myself – to me, at least – is my inability to clearly state what is fresh on my heart and mind whenever I get the opportunity, the privilege, to be on stage and share what has been given me. I nearly always manage to get tongue-tied and stutter and stammer my way to near oblivion. I speak nonsensically. I make a mockery of the English language. I am a klutz. I become a clanging cymbal to those within earshot. I ride roughshod over beauteous language. In short, I become a fool. Do you relate to this?

If only I possessed the tongue of an angel, if only words weren’t such an obstacle for my muddied mind. If only I were someone else. Do you relate to that?

After staying awake by the power of sunflower seeds, I pulled into Nashville around 2:30am and the skyline was as sharp and in-focus as I’ve seen it in many months. Cityscapes are held tighter and are more visually stunning when the air is cold and the sky bereft of cloud cover. Skylines appear more confident-looking on crisp, cold fall nights when the stars are shining full throttle and the artificial downtown lights create their own sort of brilliance giving further definition to the buildings’ already impressive outlines. It is a place of integrity on nights like this. Buildings seem to stand taller, the stars fervently grind away at darkness, the cold takes your breath away, while your breath gives back to the cold air its heavy-handedness. I suppose this is akin to what the Holy Spirit manages to do with us, the well-meaning, deeply hoping children and klutzes of God. I wonder, how is it that we become the strong-frail dwellings of integrity and light now that God himself has shone his grace upon and within us? We, as a result, are held tighter, stand taller, receive a confidence and courage that is not our own, and relay a definition – an outline, if you will – that is far more becoming to us because of that outreach of grace than we must be to God in all our clumsy, wishful pseudo-articulateness. Praise be.

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