I woke to the beat of rain pouring down, and the far off sound of an unhappy and likely very wet dog barking. The last Christmas I woke to rain was at Mama’s house. She lived out on the Olympic Peninsula at the time. It rained throughout the winter there.
Rain was the thing that took me the longest to get used to when I moved to Portland, Oregon from Columbus, Georgia. I don’t think I’d ever even owned an umbrella prior to moving to the Pacific Northwest. I own two raincoats now, and several umbrellas, and I’d own a pair of those rubber boots, too, if I could slip them over my fat calves but I can’t.
Not that I need them. It really hardly ever rains on the east side of the state. I like to say I live on the sunny side of life.
The girls and I sing that song back and forth to one another. I taught it to them long ago, when they were babies poking my eyelids open, telling me to “Wake up, Mama. Wake up.”
The Carter Family popularized the song long before I was born but the song was written by a woman named Ada Blenkhorn. Ada had a nephew who was disabled and confined to a wheelchair. Whenever they would go anywhere, he’d ask to be pushed on the sunny side of the street. So Ada penned these words:
- There’s a dark and a troubled side of life;
- There’s a bright and a sunny side, too;
- Tho’ we meet with the darkness and strife,
- The sunny side we also may view.
- Keep on the sunny side, always on the sunny side,
- Keep on the sunny side of life;
- It will help us every day, it will brighten all the way,
- If we keep on the sunny side of life.
- Tho’ the storm in its fury break today,
- Crushing hopes that we cherished so dear,
- Storm and cloud will in time pass away,
- The sun again will shine bright and clear.
- Let us greet with a song of hope each day,
- Tho’ the moments be cloudy or fair;
- Let us trust in our Savior alway,
- Who keepeth everyone in His care
Miss Ada published over 300 hymns. No telling how many she actually wrote and tossed out. All this while making biscuits from scratch. She also wrote that other beloved hymn I also taught my kids – Let the Sunshine in.
People don’t go around singing the old hymns much any more. It’s not really popular to speak the name of Jesus. It’s okay and even kind of hip to talk about God. Even here in the most unchurched state in the nation it’s okay to be spiritual. It’s even kind of expected that a person be spiritual in a loosey-goosey way.
But Jesus. Well, that’s a whole different matter. Ever since the Jesus Freaks of the 1960s got haircuts, three-piece suits and learned the lingo of Wall Street, Jesus lost favor with the people.
I suppose he’s grown used to that.
Christmas is quiet around our house this year. We have an friend from college visiting. She and I were talking last night about how much it seems the world is changing and not necessarily for the better. I told her that I thought such talk made us sound like our grannies. She laughed and agreed. Historical perspective matters.
There have always been dark times on this old earth. People have long done the most inhumane things to one another. From the very beginning of time, there have been betrayals and murders and outrageous acts of cruelty. Too often people have done those things in the name of Jesus or Allah or whoever the god is they claimed to have served.
I feel sorry for God a lot of the time. I can’t imagine how his heart must hurt when he sees people he doesn’t even know claiming to be his spokesperson, claiming to have carried out some terror in his name, claiming that they are going to get some big reward for all the destruction they’ve wrought.
I bet sometimes heaven thunders with the howls of God, like that unhappy wet dog from this morning.
Yesterday morning, I got a note from a friend going through a difficult time. Betrayed by a trusted friend, he and his family are facing a great deal of hardship this season.
I suppose I could have sent back a link to the old Carter family hymn and told him to chin up. It’s Christmas, after all.
I didn’t do that.
I took out my Mama’s bible from the cupboard of hers where I keep it. Mama scribbled all kinds of notes in her Bible, notes from as far back as 1978. I haven’t opened her bible more than half-a-dozen times since she died two years ago Christmas. For the first year after she died I couldn’t even listen to the Christian radio station. It hurt my heart too much. For much of the past two years I have been silent before God. I wasn’t running away so much as I was just giving him the silent treatment. Unsure of what to say, how to right all that seemed wrong with a world without Mama in it.
Pressing my nose into the binder of that Bible I can smell my Mama. It’s like being hugged by her. It’s the musty scent of tobacco and Red Door perfume. I held that Bible up to my face for a long, long time, missing my Mama. But then I began to read through the verses she’d underlined over the years. I stopped when I came to this one:
As I was with Moses, so I will be with thee: I will not fail thee, nor forsake thee. Joshua 1: 5
It’s a long familiar verse to me but when I read it this time the words about God not failing Joshua jumped out at me. Every other time I read these words, I’ve focused on that part about God not forsaking people. About how he is always with us. Never abandoning us. That’s a great promise but somehow in that promise of making sure we know God is always at our side, we – or at least I- have overlooked that part about God never failing us, either.
It’s one thing to have somebody at your side through the dark times.
It’s an even better thing to have somebody you can trust to do right by you all the time at your side.
It was good to be reminded of that promise.
When the kids were young, they used to go around the house singing songs to one another. Our house and life was a regular musical. One of their favorite lyrics was the tale of Joshua. Whenever anyone was facing something challenging or scary or just plain hard, one or more of the kids would sing out to the troubled one: Be Strong and Courageous, Joshua!
God is with us
Though the rains come, and the dogs howl, and the walls come tumbling down, and dear friends betray us.
God will not fail us.
That is the promise of Christmas. The hope of the Christ Child.
Merry Christmas, friends.
I pray 2015 will find you always on the Sunny Side.