I'm slipping and sliding my way over the constricted snow-turned-ice when I see him. I'm heading toward the chicken coop to put the girls to bed and gather the white and brown orbed gifts they left for me today. He is coming toward me from the opposite side of the coop, a young teen with nice clothes and a popular hat. He's been crossing that neighborly fence for a lot of years now, though with decreasing regularity. He's a little older than my son, but they spotted each other, two little towheads, when they were quite young and he was drawn across the fence by the promise of play. Many were the happy hours those two spent playing in the garden mud hole. I can see them now, freckles sprinkled all cinnamon like across their noses, robbing my carrot patch, washing the dirt in the sprinkler. They ate so many carrots that summer I thought they would burst. I won't forget the delight in their faces as they helped husk the painted mountain corn, oohing over each new collection of jeweled colors. How they played!
He seemed content to stay with us for long periods of time, cheerfully pitching in with the chores. He was polite and loved eating the healthy fare I fed them. Yet he was a mystery. His parents never came over to meet me. His grandmother and I had chatted over the fence, but no one in his family bothered to check if he was in a safe place. He would go home reluctantly, as late as possible, often after our northern summer sun had set. Mostly he came in the summer. He lived elsewhere during the school year.
As time went on, he seemed to find other interests and visited less often. I heard rumors that made me worry a bit. A dad with a hair-trigger temper. A devastating accidental death in the family that broke his little heart. Each spring, he would arrive a little taller, always adorable, but a spot of sadness on his little face. We just tried to welcome him. It was a puzzle. A clean, well dressed, polite boy, but clearly at risk, he was.
Tonight, he made his way into the house, obviously feeling welcome. We hadn't seen him for months and he had grown tall. He made small talk and I probed gently. I was met with the briefest of answers. He joined us for Scripture reading and I prayed for him and his family. I prayed peace and joy for them. I sent my son to bed then. It was bedtime and he was exhausted from a long day of skiing. But still the boy stayed. He seemed reluctant to leave. He joined our banter about remote countries in Africa, diamonds, industry and we made guesses over some of the vocabulary words in Laughing Water's geography text. It was dry homework. But he stayed. I wondered. What is he avoiding? Why is this more interesting (more safe?)? He finally stood to leave and slowly made his way to the door. Using his cell phone for a flashlight, he moved silent across the field of ice between our homes.
I've always fancied that I should be in a foreign land, spreading the Gospel. But tonight, I had a deep sense of knowing that I am right where I am supposed to be - even if it is just to provide a boy with a soft chair, a little laughter, and a prayer. - Nanette