Every place I’ve lived, I’ve had a favorite bench. Sometimes they were secret benches, where I could escape from the world and no one knew where to find me. But always my benches looked out on something lovely, sometimes spectacular, often more soothing than dramatic. And always they were places where I could sit for a long stretch, sometimes for hours, lost in my solitary world of thoughts, prayers, and ideas. My benches have been the geography for me to “Be still and know that I am God.” (Psalm 46:10)
As a child growing up on the Eastern Shore of Maryland, I perched on a wooden swing my Grandpop made me. I’d swing over the Choptank River and free my imagination to soar. In Rhode Island, my eyes gazed upon the rocky coast from my spot in Narragansett. My bench in Berkeley’s marina looked west across the bay to beautiful San Francisco. Years later, I returned to California and found a bench that opened up another angle of that stunning vista, this time from the north. Here I adjusted to life back in America, being married, leaving Cru staff. It served as a place of reflection at times, but mostly it was my favorite destination for breaks, meeting a good friend with a couple of steaming mugs of coffee. (That bench at Golden Gate Seminary holds special memories for many more than just me. The seminary is now being sold and will soon relocate. Many of us grieve the loss of such a significant, life-shaping place as the seminary, marked by The Bench.)
The very first day I lived in Romania, it was from a bench in Gradina Botanica that I glimpsed my favorite purple flowers and God reassured me of His care and provision. In Cluj, Romania, my bench lined the wide path in Central Park. In Budapest, it overlooked the magnificent Danube.
And now in North Carolina, my extremely heavy iron bench sits in the shadow of a row of tall trees, watching over our creek. We bought the bench years ago, marked down to practically giveaway at a grocery store. It’s not beautiful but it’s sturdy. And it opens up a magical world to us. No matter how high the humidity and temperatures rise, the spot around our bench is protected and breezy, always pleasant. Every winter when our creek overflows, the bench sinks deeper into the sand, making it seem as though it couldn’t possibly be pulled out. Whenever Steve and I head towards the creek, our cats come to life, meowing “Wait for me!” and chasing us. They race each other up the trees, leap over the creek, and lap its water like dogs. Our granddaughters had fun drying off on the bench after splashing in the creek. The neighbor girls stand on tiptoe and hide treasures in a knot hole above the bench, Boo Radley fashion. We all love that bench.
That’s why I hated to lose it. Last weekend, in a matter of just a couple hours, the skies opened up and dumped 4-1/2 inches of rain in our town. We heard the deafening thunder but couldn’t see the swollen creek until the next morning. Debris and branches littered our yard where the flooded waters had already receded. Our beloved bench had washed away.
Yesterday, Steve spotted it downstream! A surge of water had apparently crashed over it and thrown it to the opposite shore. It had safely lodged in a curve of the creek, protected for more thoughts. More prayers. More dreams. More of the stuff of benches.