(For Mr. and Mrs. Hawkins, Art and Karen, Jerry and Kathy, Mike and Penny, and most of all, "The Unseen Guest")
I attended an estate sale over the weekend at a house that holds countless precious memories in the hearts of ten people who were long blessed to enjoy each others' presence, along with that of an Unseen Guest.
If you've been with us awhile, you may recall essays about a Christmas season dinner we attended for more than thirty years. The celebration began in 1975, not long after I became a born again believer in the Lord Jesus Christ. My first Sunday School teacher, Mr. Derrall Hawkins, led a small class of college boys. He and his wife Rosalie invited us that first year for a Christmas gathering in their home, not knowing that we would reconvene every year for the next three decades. Within a few years, girlfriends who would become wives joined us. This initiated our bringing certain dishes that would become features of the tradition (The Cherished and Fabled Menu: Roast Beef; Spinach Madeline; Squash Casserole; Sweet Potato Casserole; rice, gravy; ice tea, coffee, and Mrs. Hawkins' amazing desserts). I can still taste everything, and far more, I'm sitting at the Hawkins' dining room table even now in my heart and mind, seeing the cherished faces, and hearing echoes of voices and laughter.
Sadly and joyfully, Mr. Hawkins went to be with the Lord several years ago, and Mrs. Hawkins followed him recently. We were not aware their house had sold until we spotted estate sale signs while driving down a main thoroughfare of our city. The address sounded familiar, and Frances said, "I'll bet that's the Hawkins' house." It was, and I determined to attend the sale the next day (Frances couldn't join me because of work responsibilities). I wanted to be in the Hawkins' home one last time. I also hoped to find mementos that might keep our memories of wonderful people and wonderful times fresh in our hearts (I don't suppose, actually, we really need anything for that to happen).
Walking onto the porch of the house the next morning, the first things I spotted were a box of Christmas glasses and a Christmas serving bowl. They looked familiar, and I realized the Lord had instantly provided what I came for. I then entered the house through the familiar screen door that, like all screen doors, squeaked a bit as it opened and closed. Amazingly, things looked much the same as they had for so many years. Most of the furniture remained, not yet having been sold. I marveled at how much things felt as they always had. Thankfully, I had the presence of mind to snap a few pictures with my smartphone, and I wandered through the house feeling both sad and joyful. So many memories. So much gladness, fellowship, enjoyment, and most of all, love - we experienced all and more in this place of grace that so blessed us with God's realized presence.
I can confirm with utmost confidence that the Lord Jesus met with us during all those dinners, for all those years. As the Unseen Guest of every Christian gathering, He provides experiences that may seem human, and are, but which actually originate in the Divine. Every person involved in the joyous events I chronicle will quickly agree that God gave our dinners with the Hawkins as a gift to all our hearts. We deeply loved each other in the human sense, of course, but the love of Christ inaugurated, perpetuated, and illuminated a tradition that may have taken place in an earthly venue, but which began in the heart of the gracious Lord of Heaven.
Look for such gifts. It might involve a few (just two, perhaps) or many, but the Unseen Guest delights in drawing His trusting children together for fellowship and the hymnwriter's "mystic sweet communion" of Heart with hearts. I hesitate to end this essay. It feels very much as if I'm closing the chapter of a very wonderful book in so doing. I could share with you so many moments of Christ that occurred in the place of grace that was the Hawkins' home for many years, and which provided a sweet gathering of the Lord Jesus and certain of His trusting ones. I am glad to have been a part of those times, and I look forward to reconvening when we are all reunited in another time and another place. The Unseen Guest will be seen in that holy hour, and precious memories of the past will pale in comparison to the precious realities of forever. Oh yes, how I look forward to that...
"Then came Jesus, the doors being shut, and stood in the midst, and said, Peace be unto you."
Weekly Memory Verse
I will worship toward Thy holy temple, and praise Thy name for Thy lovingkindness and for Thy truth: for Thou hast magnified Thy word above all Thy name.