The cold nipped at my nose and lips as I peaked my head out of my sleeping bag. I laid there for a good 10 minutes watching my breath form from the chilled morning air. Unzipping my bag I slipped into my 2nd day jeans and went out to the port-a-potty outside. As I stepped out of the trailer the sun was fighting its way over the mesas as a fog formed over the valley, partly from the rapidly changing morning climate, and the other part from the wood stoves that were already burning hot all over the valley. The sporadic sounds of sheep and goats blended with the sheep dogs in my groggy state as I stumbled to the second port-a-potty because I remembered from the previous day that the first one didn’t have toilet paper in it. After my morning commode visit I stopped mid-way between the port-a-potty and the trailer to look at the rising sun still coming over the mesa, with Bessie’s Hogan to my left I just soaked in the morning. The cool air oozed into the slowly waking-up parts of my joints and mind.
Before we had a trailer on the land I’d sleep in Bessie’s spare room. The Navajos are a matriarchal culture, and Bessie’s word went on her land. The bed in her spare room was warm, and so comfortable that once you fell asleep it took quite a cacophony of events to wake you again. The blankets were heavy, and that probably explained why you would sleep so deeply…they would just push you deeper and deeper into slumber.
As I shuffled around outside, I heard the spring on Bessie’s screen door open and heard her yell in her broken english, “Joel! Eat!” “OK!” I yelled back, as I made my way to the hogan, convincing my body to wade through the wind chill that walking created. Walking into her home, I said “Desk’azz” (cold), as she smiled, nodded, and said desk’azz ot’ (yes, cold) back to me. Bessie always got a kick out of me trying to speak Navajo. Sometimes I wondered if I was anywhere close to pronouncing things right. Bessie would often make potatoes and ham for breakfast. It doesn’t sound like much, but when Bessie made it, it was as gourmet as potatoes and ham will ever be. She would also toast some bread, and make some strong coffee (just the way I like it…or just the way I can taste it). She’d ask, “Where’s Bill?” To which I’d always answer, “I don’t know, he’s out there somewhere.” Finishing the meal I would say, “Thank you, Bessie.” and I’d go outside to see what Bill was up to. Bill was always fixing something, or helping someone. Which is partly why he’s one of my heroes.
When I met Bill, it was when I worked at the American Indian Christian Mission. I thought he was with a work group at first, and I asked him how long he was there for. Bill said in his gruff earthened growl, “I’m here till I die.” It seemed kind of morbid at first, but the more I thought about it, the more it sounded determined. Bill (quite elderly, yet healthy and solid) told me to call him Old Bill…so from then on, that’s what I called him. Old Bill, had been a lot of places in his lifetime, and I came to see that (at least now) whenever he noticed God doing something he would get excited. When he heard that a VBS in Burntcorn Valley on the Navajo Rez erupted into many coming to Christ, he left to become a part of it. That’s where my friendship with him cultivated I think. I wanted to be a part of it too, so for about a year I began getting up at 4:30 – 5am on Sunday mornings to drive the 5 hour trek with Old Bill to the Navajo Rez. Those drives were great. Some of them I fell asleep for, but usually I watched the sun rise while talking to Old Bill. There’s something about listening to someone who has been tossed and turned in the waves of life that makes them overflow of wisdom. Often, Old Bill would tell stories and they just be random experiences, but every once in a while out of the mix would be a nugget of truth so deep that you’ve be convinced that it is that truth that God wanted to shoot into your heart right that second.
[Fast forward to yesterday]
Yesterday I was on my way to the House of Prayer to set up. (Last week I stayed up late thinking about Bill, hoping that he was OK and wondering where he was. I was able to get a friend to email me Old Bill’s mobile phone number, so I gave Bill a call) Through the crackle of a breaking connection I heard Old Bill pick up and say hello. “Hi Bill, this is Joel Bidderman.” I explained that I just wanted to say hi and let him know that I was thinking about him. He was happy to hear my voice. He is still in Burntcorn and last week they just had a workgroup out to do work and VBS. I told him what was doing: that I finished my degree in sound engineering and now I’m on full-time staff with a worship and prayer ministry. Old Bill, knowing that my dream was to minister through music said, “Joel that’s great” he said, “You know, quitters quit, but we cling to God.” Through chasing after God in this season I’ve had to face deep parts of me of failures, pain and trials. I needed someone on the outside looking to help me see that though I might be confused, God’s got me. God could have done it through anyone, but He chose to speak through my faithful friend on the Navajo Rez.
Even now, if I close my eyes hard enough I can see the sunset sweep across the Burntcorn Valley, as lights from the homes begin to speckle the valley floor. The windmill sitting with rust looks back at me, over the sheep in their corral right in front me. The cold begins creeping again, but now in a different way. In a way that it seems to be chasing you down. But if you sit there quietly enough, you can almost hear your heart beat. And as I hear my heart beat I can hear a song beat to its rhythm. “Take my hands, and use me in ways I do not know. Take my feet, and lead me to the end of myself…and right to Your throne.” And as the melody swirls up with the song of the Heavens singing “Holy, Holy, Holy is the Lord our God. Who was and is and is to come” my heart swoons at the thought that one day Jesus the Bridegroom is coming back for His Bride: me, you, the Body of Christ. And in that day the chase to the end of myself will end…it will end at Him. Swirling colors of the multicolored sky will all dull and fade into the beauty and light of Him whose face shines like the sun and whose eyes burn with fire (a fire of love) for His Beloved. In that moment all complaining will be a vapor, and all clinging will be all that matters.