“Make sure to call me before he opens his gift!” my grandmother told me on the phone. It was a few days before Christmas and she had carefully hand-picked a gift for Josh. Wrapping it up meticulously, before putting it in the mail. I promised her I would, as we shared a muffled laugh so as to not let him hear me from the other room. She was in her eighties by then. And had beat breast cancer. Twice, actually. After the last bout with it, she decided to take off the boxing gloves by taking off her breasts with a double mastectomy. And because she was older, she didn’t see the need for reconstructive surgery. So she wore silicone inserts instead.
I’m not sure where she got the idea from. Or how any of this came about. But that meticulously-wrapped-present addressed to Josh arrived in the mail just in time for Christmas. I put the package on the kitchen counter, and called him over. “Hang on,” I said as he began to cut open the tape. “I need to call my Grandma. She wants to be on the phone when you open it!”
Josh’s eyes lit up. “Oh, this must be good!” he said, and patiently waited while I called, then put her on speaker. “Ok,” she told him. “Open it!”
He cut the tape. Pulled out the wrapped gift. And took his time peeling off the paper. Building his own suspense to the surprise that awaited him. And finally, when he was about to take off the lid, he paused dramatically. Then peeked inside.
Almost instantly, he yelled out and jumped across the room.
My innocent, five-foot-nothing, eighty-something grandmother had wrapped up her fake breast inserts and sent them to Josh for Christmas. And we roared with laughter as he recoiled with shock.
It’s one of my very favorite stories of her.
She died a year or two later. It was Palm Sunday.
Incidentally, it was also April Fool’s Day.
I always think of her when Palm Sunday comes around – of that beautiful contrast between the sorrow of death and hope of heaven. Because on that Palm Sunday? She saw heaven with her own two eyes for the very first time.
* * *
I started uncovering all the palms in the Bible shortly after we moved to this little island. When we left our Desert-Sage-Street home. And traded it for this good land. A Deuteronomy-8:7-kind-of-good-land. A land of brooks of water or, as it’s literally translated, palm trees. Those universal symbols of victory. And peace. And fertility.
God brought us to this land-of-the-palms in the middle of the Pacific and planted us here with a Psalm-92-promise.
a promise to flourish
After so many years of desert-dwelling, He gave my withering heart a flourishing promise.
“The righteous shall flourish like a palm tree,” Psalm 92:12 declares. The growth might not be rapid. But their endurance? It lasts centuries. Those palms that send all their strength upward in one bold and dramatic column. Growing in the dearth and drought of the desert. Living and thriving where everything else perishes.* The ones that grow slowly but steadily over the centuries, uninfluenced by the burning sun or raining deluge and unswayed from their perfect uprightness.** The ones that don’t start producing the best fruit until they are at least 30 years old.***
Those are the ones God promises we will flourish like. And as we do, we give back parts of ourselves to Him. In worship. And service. And the stewardship of those gifts-He-has-given in the form of that best-fruit-production.
So really, when God says we will flourish like a palm tree. And Matthew 21 shows God’s people laying out palm branches before Jesus as He made His way into the city that last time. And in a beautiful way, on that first Palm Sunday, the people of God lay themselves down for the Man that was on His way to lay His life down for all of us.
The righteous shall flourish. And wave hands high and shout glory-stories from the rooftops of miracles. And worship on that pathway-to-the-cross. And when we do? We allow ourselves to be the pathway of His glory.
* * *
Josh’s grandpa was a world renowned rodeo champion back in his time. The first time I ever visited their house on the ranch, I was fascinated by the framed black and white photographs on the wall of him in action – wrestling steer and chasing trophy buckles. On the day of his memorial service, the Central Oregon cowboys came out in droves to celebrate his life. And Josh’s grandma bought all of her grandsons white cowboy hats to wear to the service. That cowboy hat has sat on the self in our closet since we moved into our little home close to the sea ten months ago. Stacked on top of a second white cowboy hat that Josh bought recently.
Josh’s grandmother died unexpectedly early last week. And we’ll spend next Easter weekend celebrating her life in another beautiful contrast between the sorrow of death and hope of heaven. Josh was texting with her the day before she died, sending videos and photos of the great-grandson she hadn’t yet been able to meet. “He’s so sweet and growing!” she said. It was the last thing she said to him.
A couple of nights after she died, I went into Jordan’s corner-in-our-closet for a 1:30am pacifier check and heard his feet kicking against something. “What in the world are you kicking?” I whispered, feeling around in the dark. And then I found them. Both cowboy hats tucked neatly up against the inside of his bassinet. A kiss from the great-grandparent-angels who made a quick visit. Heaven come ever-so-briefly to earth.
And this morning, there’s a breathless whisper of renewed prayer in my soul – craving those words that Jesus spoke: Oh LORD, on this righteous-shall-flourish-like-the-Palm-Sunday, may Your determined commands, decisions, wishes, purposes, requests and dedicated will be done here on earth.
Just like it is in heaven.