signs and symbols

by Elizabeth de Barros

Growing up, my parents’ friends were to me more like figures from a wax museum. Somewhere in my psyche, I thought they would never age, let alone die.  I studied their peculiar laughs and lifestyles from the darkened chamber of my bedroom while they carried on unawares in the adult world of all their empty vices.  As it turned out, most of them did end up making it to my wedding — their social accomplishment and my free token pass into adulthood.

What mattered back then.

But now, decades later and several states removed, either their outlines have faded into the shadows or I hear of their death months after their obit made the local rounds. Their Biblical significance is fulfilled in Scripture:

“All men are like grass…”

-Isaiah 40:6

But I’ve learned since then that there are some people who jut out from the grass like erected metal sculpture. Their impressiveness is like huge pieces of undeniable  art — signs and symbols from the Lord — chosen ones who perform God’s alien task.  They renovate entire landscapes and renew every square inch of fertile ground they step on just by breathing. This is the hidden place where God makes a reservation to work His wonders, causing men to stop and ponder the deep things of God.

Several years ago at a church meeting, I happened to meet a burly, middle-aged man — he would’ve passed for the stereotypical corporate raider if there were dollar signs in his eyes, but I saw none. Instead, they rejoiced a buoyant blue, and he walked around as though on parade, quietly celebrating an entirely different success. His wife and children seemed genuinely happy to be following in his train, like eager attendants willingly picking up leftover confetti after a long war. A family held together by an unspoken victory, they beamed like proud recipients of a great reward, wearing gratefulness for their sash.

What I remember most, though, is how thrilled this man was to be in his own skin. When he held out his hand to shake mine, he introduced himself by saying, “Hi, I’m Broken.” Like a dog, my ears perked up and my nose twitched — on the prowl for more of that good stuff. I didn’t talk with him long, just long enough to note a certain zeal and sweetness about him, the kind that no matter how deep goes the knife, all that comes up is honey. I asked him where he got such an unusual name. He said, “When God broke me.”

Without a single trace of human effort, God seized that day a massive amount of spiritual real estate in the souls of men, namely mine.

We are signs and symbols in Israel from the LORD Almighty,
who dwells on Mount Zion.

Isaiah 8:18