My dad sits on our porch and fidgets with his cigar. Napping and smoking fill most of Jack Ray’s days now. His cigars are bundle-packed Churchills, pungent and imposing. He smokes two, sometimes three a day.
And he asks questions: “Where’s Diane? Are you going to take me home? Whose house is this? Yours? Really? How long have you lived here? Have I been here before?”
Once this loop of questions gets started, it’s difficult to derail. But not from a lack of trying, at least on my part. I ask him questions about times gone by, note how great the weather is, ask him how he feels and if he needs anything. He holds the details for an instant before they slip away and his mind starts again to grasp those that are most important to trying to figure out his place: “Where’s Diane? Are you going to take me home? Whose house is this? …”
The cigars leave traces of ash on the porch; their drifting smoke hovers around our home.
I finally got to take my wife Jane to visit Yellowstone. As a kid, I camped there many times, exploring the geysers, trails and the massive lodge, and fishing the rivers and lakes. It’s a magic place in my memory. Even though Jane and I’ve travelled together extensively, we’d never made it to this extraordinary park until this summer.
Entering Yellowstone through Jackson Hole offers one of the most epic vistas of any place on earth. The Tetons erupt from the sagebrush-covered valley with mesmerizing altitude and grace. On a clear day, that is. As we approached through Idaho from the south, however, the skies started to get hazy. The closer we got, the thicker a dull, white gauze obscured the horizon. We were excited to catch a first view of the mountains, but as we got closer, it was as if we were looking for shadowy figures moving behind a backlit curtain: We knew they were there, but there was no clarity to their form, no obvious indication of their identity.
I tried to fill in the details for Jane, to describe what the smoke from a million burning acres of Western wildfires was hiding. I felt increasingly frustrated that she was not able to see what I remembered being there, what I knew lay locked behind the smoke. No words that I offered could cut through the shroud.
Last night I woke up abruptly around midnight to find my dad pacing at the foot of my bed. I’m sleeping downstairs in the room next to his while he’s here. The questions wouldn’t let him sleep: “Where’s Diane? Are you going to take me home? Whose house is this? Is Diane OK? How long until I go home?”
And I’m asking how long until the smoke clears.
This year Grace Church is making an intentional, disciplined effort to "clear the smoke" and get a clear, grand view of the Bible through the lens of John as well as develop the personal disciplines and community involvement that help us successfully navigate the small details and relationships of everyday life.
It won’t be easy. It will require us to develop new and challenging study and application skills. It is going to take time, discipline and a commitment to engaging and growing in community.
But friends, it will be worth it.
Otherwise, we will all just be sitting here in the smoke.
John Ray is a missionary, spiritual director and the elder responsible for teaching at Grace Church of NWA. John and his wife Jane spend way too much time packing and unpacking, vacuuming dog hair and chasing raccoons off their porch. They much prefer sharing good food and good coffee with friends, reading and trying to keep up with their daughters.