Sunday, March 30, 2008

Charley and the Easter Lily

One of our family's more memorable Easters happened in the wee hamlet of Sisters, OR. Greg pastored a small church in the community and I worked at the high school as an educational assistant.

I'm not sure how much educating or assisting I actually did, but I got to hang out with a lot of really interesting high school students.

Like Charley.

I met Charley when he was a sophomore. Even without his six-inch mohawk (he told me he used Elmers glue to get it to stay erect), Charley was probably a good 6' 5" in his scuffed-up Doc Martens. It hurt my neck to stand and talk to him for any length of time. Charley also had tattoos, piercings, wore lots of spikes and chains and had the biggest ear plugs (the kind that are embedded into and stretch out the ear lobe) I'd ever seen. He played bass for the up-and-coming punk band, Backwash.

Charley was my favorite student and I'm pretty sure he knew it.

Charley hated school because he struggled to read, so I spent several hours each week working on the basics with him. Our favorite books to read together were the Cooper Kids adventures by Frank Peretti. Even though the series targeted elementary school children, Charley's imagination was captured by the Cooper kid's exploits. Opportunities to talk about spiritual things surfaced in every chapter.

Charley had been raised in a non-religious home and his parents divorced the year I met him. Despite his spiky outward appearance, I knew from the start that Charley had a tender heart. We had great discussions about God and one day I felt the Lord's nudging to invite Charley to church the following Sunday--which just happened to be Easter.

Charley was non-committal and I tried not to get my hopes up as I looked around for him on Easter morning. But ten minutes after the service began, Charley swaggered into the sanctuary. He had to duck to keep his mohawk from brushing against the door jam and the metallic clank of his chains caused a few worshippers to turn around and stare.

But Charley slid into the place we'd saved for him on the back pew like he'd been going to church all his life and the girls and I all hugged the stuffings out of him. Which isn't easy to do when the person you're hugging is covered with metal spikes.

The quaint country church was decorated with the usual white lilies and other Easterish flowers. At the front of the sanctuary, however, was an odd sight--a large wooden cross, wrapped with chicken-wire. Church goers had been prompted ahead of time to bring fresh flowers to the Easter service so that we could "flower the cross." After we finished singing all of our favorite Easter hymns, Greg announced that people could come to the front, place their flowers on the cross and take communion together.

So a couple here, a family there, proceeded to the altar and planted their flowers in the wire mesh surround the wooden cross. It was really cool to watch the transformation of the symbol of our faith--from rough, splintery dead wood to a fragrant, colorful cross-shaped bouquet.

Since our gang was sitting in the back, we waited until the crowds had thinned out to make our way forward.

"Want to go up with us Charley?" I asked my young friend, wanting to include him with our family, but not expecting him to respond.

"Sure," he said gamely and followed us grinning to the front of the packed room. The fact that he hadn't brought flowers didn't daunt Charley a bit. He just reached down and plucked an Easter lily from its pot on the stage. Using his height to its full advantage, Charley placed his bloom--potting soil, roots and all--at the very topmost spot on the cross.

The transformation was complete!

There were a few gasps and giggles from the Sunday crowd, and I saw a head or two shake in disbelief. But I have to admit I was proud of Charley and I'm pretty sure Jesus was too. And after that day, Charley felt like a son to me.

Unfortunately, our paths parted after Charley graduated and I haven't seen him in a while. But every time I see some punk with a six-inch mohawk and plugs the size of quarters, I think of my friend. And I pray that the Easter we flowered the cross together planted a seed that will bear much fruit in the end.